AUGUSTA — A private college with two branches in Maine will open a third one this fall in Maine’s capital city.

Kaplan University announced its Augusta expansion plans Saturday at a commencement ceremony for students of its South Portland and Lewiston campuses.

The Augusta campus will operate out of the former Staples store building at 14 Marketplace Drive, putting it across the street from the University of Maine at Augusta, which offers overlapping programs in areas such as business and nursing.

Kaplan University Maine President Christopher Quinn said the new location will give Augusta-area students more options and Kaplan more access to a large population center.

“It’s really to expand on our mission here in Maine in terms of servicing non-traditional students, you know, working adults who want to come back and give themselves more opportunity in a new career,” Quinn said before the announcement.

The Augusta campus will start classes in September with classroom, online and blended programs that mirror ones offered in South Portland and Lewiston, such as accounting, business administration, criminal justice, early childhood development, medical assisting and paralegal studies.

The school hopes to add a nursing program soon but has regulatory hurdles to clear, Quinn said.

Kaplan is leasing the former Staples building in the Marketplace at Augusta. It is 20,000 square feet and will accommodate about 11 classrooms, plus specialty lab areas for certain programs.

Quinn said Kaplan’s expansion to Augusta is a significant private investment totaling several million dollars. The school will add at least a dozen employees to its Maine-based workforce of about 180 people.

Kaplan Inc. is a for-profit corporation owned by the Washington Post Co. In 2005, it bought Andover College, which owned the schools in South Portland and Lewiston. About 1,400 people are enrolled in Kaplan’s in-person and online courses in Maine.

Kaplan University mostly serves so-called non-traditional students rather than new high school graduates. Quinn said the average Kaplan graduate is 35 years old, and 79 percent of the students are women.

Gov. Paul LePage, who spoke at Kaplan’s commencement Saturday, said in a news release Friday that Kaplan’s expansion will provide new career opportunities to more Mainers, helping the economy.

“Because Kaplan University has done its homework and specializes in some of Maine’s fastest-growing industries, its graduates are better prepared for the jobs of today,” LePage said in the release. “I commend Kaplan for recognizing the needs of our private sector and creating programs that will address our workforce needs.”

Kaplan will be in competition with other local colleges that enroll many non-traditional students, including UMA and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, which are also less expensive than Kaplan.

Kaplan charges $250 per credit hour, plus a $210 technology fee for each quarter.

UMA’s in-state tuition is $217 per credit hour, with additional fees as high as $29 per credit hour for students on the Augusta or Bangor campuses.

At KVCC, Maine residents pay $86 per credit hour, plus several other fees.

Quinn said Kaplan costs less than most other private schools, and he feels it is a good value.

“We have very career-focused programming,” Quinn said. “We want to have college degrees that are relevant and will help people get a job after graduation. The second part is we try to distinguish ourselves with exceptional student service. It’s very personalized; it’s very proactive.”

Kaplan’s average class size is about 14 students, and instructors follow up with students who miss classes, as well as assessing workplace readiness in every course.

For-profit colleges, including Kaplan, have come under fire for high student loan default rates. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 15 percent of students from for-profit schools could not repay their student loans in fiscal year 2009, compared to 7.2 percent for public institutions and 4.6 percent for nonprofit, private institutions.

In fall 2010, Kaplan introduced its Kaplan Commitment program, which aims to ensure that students will be successful in their course of study.

Students who are not passing at the halfway point of each five-week course are dismissed, and students also can withdraw during that period. Those students will be refunded everything but an application fee, Quinn said.

Other higher education institutions in the area also are planning expansions.

Thomas College in Waterville, which bills itself as “career-oriented” and offers programs in business, technology and education, plans to nearly double its enrollment to 1,400 students in the next several years as it expands its West River Road campus.

KVCC has bought 13 buildings and 600 acres from Good Will-Hinckley on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield, which will allow it to grow by 2,000 students, to nearly 5,000. The Good Will campus is now home to the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, an agricultural and environmental magnet school.

Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Peter Thompson said that when it comes to highly in-demand industries such as health care, “it’s probably the more the merrier in helping to prepare people for those fields.”

Thompson said the chamber will welcome Kaplan to Augusta.

“It’s nice to see that business location becoming active again, and we’re looking forward to what they can do to provide for the educational needs of people in this area,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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