Purdue University President Mitch Daniels was in Washington last week to receive the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the government of Japan at an embassy ceremony. The award is one of Japan’s highest, and was given for “significant contributions to the strengthening of economic relations and mutual understanding” between the two countries.

During his time as governor of Indiana, Daniels saw 70 new direct investments in the state from Japan, including a Honda assembly plant that was the biggest “greenfields” investment in the United States in 2006. Over the following six years, Japan brought more than $2.6 billion of new investment and 8,400 jobs to the Hoosier State, as the governor led five economic missions to the country.

Since Daniels came to Purdue in January 2013, nearly $5 million of Japanese corporate research has come to campus. Largely because of the groundwork he laid, Indiana ranks second this year among the 50 states for best economic outlook, as measured through 15 important state fiscal policy variables laid out the 10th annual edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Rich State, Poor State” study.

He’s also accomplished a number of significant milestones at Purdue, including a six-year tuition freeze. There may not be another university in the country that plans to charge students less tuition in 2019 than was paid in 2012. The student loan default rate for Purdue graduates hovers around 1 percent. The Milken Institute ranked Purdue No. 1 for technology transfer among public universities without a medical school.

Now, the university is going to expand its offerings to millions of people online. Instead of committing to a multiyear project to build a significant online learning university, Purdue announced April 27 that it is creating a new public university (temporarily named “New U”) by acquiring most of the assets of Kaplan University, a competency-based online learning business of 15 campuses in the United States, 32,000 nontraditional students and nearly 80 years of remote-learning experience.

Kaplan offered the nation’s first totally online law school and has created study courses to review vast amounts of material for various accreditation and professional certification exams. It is a global provider of education programs in more than 30 countries and has forged partnerships with many colleges, universities, school districts and more than 2,600 corporations. The educational networking possibilities are nearly limitless. A whole new chapter of efforts to produce more affordable post-secondary opportunities, particularly for working adults, is likely to be launched by this marriage of a top public research institution and an online juggernaut in competency-based education.

According to reports, the Purdue faculty is not yet prepared to give its blessing to New U, which is an endemic feature of both disruptive initiatives and university faculties generally. Quick to embrace every progressive policy fad, it is less likely that the Purdue management will get an immediate pass from those participants in higher education with sinecures anchored in the traditional business model. But it is a model that deserves more consideration as workplace needs drive absorption of sophisticated technical knowledge and skills and leans toward affordable learning for the benefit of its students and the good of the country.

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