By Carly O’Connell
As a former two-term governor of Indiana and former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, Purdue University (IN) President Mitchell Daniels Jr.’s strong background in balancing budgets makes him uniquely positioned to run a state flagship university.
It’s also why ACE Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs Terry Hartle sat down with him at ACE2018 to talk about some of the economic and policy issues facing higher education—from student debt and rising tuition costs to the value of higher education, among others.
Daniels made waves by freezing tuition for the past five years at Purdue. This move was popular among students and families and less difficult than he thought it would be. “If you can pay your bills on an operating basis, invest in the quality of the place, and maintain or grow your reserves [without raising tuition], why would you raise tuition?” Daniels asked.
While those around him warned that it would deter applications by showing a lack of confidence in the institution, Daniels found instead that applications increased to an explosive degree. Of course, while Daniels has already decided to keep tuition frozen for a sixth year, he admits that it cannot stay that way forever. But for now, the student population has been spared about a quarter of a billion dollars, which would have been collected had Purdue raised its tuition at the national average for the last half-decade.
This lower tuition has contributed to another important development at Purdue: a decrease in student loan borrowing. Despite having grown its student body over the last few years, the total number of dollars borrowed has gone down. Daniels also gives credit to the counselors and advisors who help students make informed decisions about how much money they really need to borrow. Student debt is a problem for the nation’s economy and for taxpayers as more and more students are unable to pay off their loans. Daniels recognized this issue and is eager for his students to be in as little debt as possible.
After all, the cost of higher education has more than tripled in the past few decades, even as public confidence in institutions is low. Daniels argues it is time to take “visible actions that respond to valid criticisms” such as Purdue’s measures of freezing tuition and decreasing student borrowing.
Nevertheless, Daniels still considers America’s network of colleges and universities to be the best in the world. That is why so many from all over the globe come here to learn.
Fundamentally, he believes: “Higher education needs and deserves public support.”