First Things First
Affordability Tops the List
Mitch Daniels, Purdue’s 12th president, wasted no time setting a new course for the University. Early on, he found legions of what he calls “problem-solvers and game-changers” — faculty, students, staff, alumni, retirees, friends, partners and President’s Council members — eager to join him in shaping the future of higher education at Purdue and beyond.
A new semester and an era of change are underway...
The past eight months have brought some big changes to Purdue. Daniels — in his first semester as president — solicited input and feedback from across campus to find efficiencies and gather new ideas. Among the results have been an overhaul of the University’s tech transfer enterprise and consolidation of key administrative departments. But keeping Purdue affordable, Daniels says, is about more than immediate changes. “Protecting students and their families from rising college costs is a key part of the affordability discussion. The other is making sure we have resources to sustain these measures into the future.” Recent changes also are only a precursor of what is being rolled out this fall: a new agenda for Purdue priorities. Among the highest priorities for Daniels has clearly been affordability, and measures to address it have been record-breaking and, in many cases, unprecedented.
“At Purdue, we will make our first goal affordability, accommodating our spending to students’ budgets not the other way around.”
Mitch Daniels / President, Purdue University
Purdue University has broken a string of 37 consecutive tuition increases and is on course to become a nationwide leader in controlling the cost of higher education while maintaining excellence in teaching, outreach and research.
The University Board of Trustees has approved freezing West Lafayette tuition and most fees during the next two academic years along with a 5 percent cut in meal plans and a reduction in co-op fees for students in work-study programs.
The freeze in tuition means the University will forgo potential revenue of $40 million over the biennium — 1 percent to 2 percent of the base budget — and President Daniels is confident that goal can be not only met but exceeded.
“From discussions with faculty, staff, alumni and students, it’s my clear impression that actions to ensure the accessibility of a Purdue education have very broad support across our community, and the initial response to our announcement seems to confirm this view,” Daniels said in an open letter to faculty, staff and students.
“Putting students and their families first is always the right principle, but especially during a time of continued economic and income stagnation,” he said. “The dollars we are privileged to spend at our University come for the most part from either a student’s family or a taxpayer. Any unnecessary expenditure by definition either limits our ability to invest in the excellence of our teaching and research or, if paid for by higher tuition charges, makes coming to Purdue more of a financial burden. It has been too easy in higher education for institutions to decide first what they would like to spend, and then raise student bills to produce the desired funds.
“That approach has run its course,” he said. “At Purdue, we will make our first goal affordability, accommodating our spending to students’ budgets and not the other way around.
President Daniels enjoys spending time with students. Putting students first includes the University Board of Trustees approving a tuition freeze on the West Lafayette campus as well as reducing most fees during the next two academic years along with a 5 percent cut in meal plans and a reduction in co-op fees for students in work study programs.
Daniels said everyone at Purdue should ask questions such as:
- What are we doing that once made sense but no longer does?
- What are we doing in multiple places that could be done less expensively in one?
- What are we doing that does not in any clear and meaningful sense further our core missions for learning, discovery and engagement?
Saying that every $10,000 saved could pay one year of tuition for Indiana resident students, Daniels urged everyone to join in cost-saving efforts. He launched an email account — email@example.com — and encouraged people to send in their cost-saving ideas. More than 250 people have so far contributed.
“This is the right thing to do for students and families,” Daniels said. “At the same time, keeping higher education affordable and accessible, especially for science and engineering degrees, is the best form of economic development Purdue can provide for Indiana and the country.”
In a message in May to the Board of Trustees Executive Committee, Daniels said:
- Since 1978 nationwide tuition and fees have grown three times the rate of the cost of goods and services.
- West Lafayette tuition and fees have risen from $5,851 in 2003-04 to $9,900 in 2012-13.
- West Lafayette meal plans have risen from less than $4,000 in 2003-04 to more than $5,500 in 2012-13.
- Meal plans have increased every year since 1974.
- Student co-op fees have increased every year on record.
- Reducing meal plans and co-op fees will impact 10,000 students and save them and their families $3.5 million.
This year Purdue’s tuition and fees (not including food costs) rank ninth out of 11 public Big Ten universities for resident undergraduates and sixth for nonresident students.
Faculty and staff contribute
To help save the $40 million needed to offset the tuition freeze, Daniels in April changed course on a staff wage freeze announced earlier in the year. Instead of a freeze on administrative and professional pay at levels over $50,000, all employees — clerical and service staff, professional, administrative, and faculty — were eligible to participate in a 1 percent raise pool.
The final decision, while responding to concerns expressed by faculty and other members of the University community, results in greater savings than the initial proposal, about $7 million versus $5 million over the two years of the tuition freeze.
The decision emerged from the newly established President’s Council on Budget and Affordability.
“Through the wealth of constructive feedback we received directly and through the faculty leaders on our President’s Council on Budget and Affordability, I’m convinced we have reached a far better outcome,” Daniels said. “I’m excited not only by the way in which the council helped improve this decision, but also about the promise this episode offers for genuine, effective shared governance in making future difficult choices.”
Council member David Williams, then vice chair of the University Senate, said, “I have been at Purdue for 40-plus years, and I believe we made history with the manner in which we reached this decision. It has to be the first time Purdue faculty leaders had a say in how the university budget would be shaped. It truly is an example of shared governance.”
Patricia Hart, then vice chair-elect of the University Senate, added, “This solution represents the unanimous belief of the new President’s Council (on Budget and Affordability) that pre-eminence depends upon the valuable contributions of every member of our Purdue family.”
Leadership by example
Cost-saving measures will never stop Purdue from building the University in those areas where it can be an international leader.
Daniels established a fund in which any Purdue faculty or staff member can contribute their pay increase or other money toward scholarships for students. The President and his wife, Cheri, were among the first to step forward with scholarship support.
Each fall a student from New Albany High School and one from The Oaks Academy will received a newly established Purdue scholarship which will cover many of their undergraduate academic expenses for four years. The scholarships were established by Mitch and Cheri Daniels.
The scholarships are $10,000 per year and recognize outstanding students who are graduates from New Albany High School — Cheri’s alma mater — or who attended The Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, which the couple helped launch in 1988.
As former governor of Indiana and a nationally recognized political leader, Daniels also has been taking his message of affordability off the campus and throughout the country.
In one such appearance, in June on The Daily Rundown, on MSNBC, he said colleges and universities have been offsetting tuition increases with rising student loans.
“With the best of intentions, we’ve subsidized, poured loans and grants into higher education,” he said. “Universities did the human thing — they pocketed the money. But students and their families were no better off.”
On the nationally aired program Daniels said he believes some universities have spent too many tuition dollars on “country club amenities” and “very lavish facilities.”
“Universities will need to deliver an excellent education at a very affordable price, prove that students learned and grew while they were there,” he said. “It has been too easy to add these nice-to-do items and just send the bill to A) the taxpayer and B) the students’ family
“That game is up.”
At the same time costs are being cut, Daniels is planning major new investments in colleges and schools including Krannert and a five-year plan to strategically increase enrollment and the number of faculty and staff in the College of Engineering.
In setting the course for the future Daniels says cost saving measures to protect students and families are necessary right now, but also must be sustained so that the University can continue to invest resources in the future. Moreover, these initiatives will never stop Purdue from building the University in those areas where it can be a truly great, international leader.
John Norberg is a Purdue University writer, historian and served as the communications director for the Purdue University Development Office.