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State of the University 2012

Thank you, Morry, and good morning!

It's my great privilege to welcome you to this President’s Forum. Today my focus is the State of the University.

This is my last Forum as your President. The nostalgic part of me would reflect on what I've experienced at Purdue during my tenure, and the messages I've emphasized and initiatives I've announced from this platform. But the practical side of me believes that it is better to build on the past than to relive it. And so, my remarks will incorporate where we have been, focus on where we are now, and imagine where we are going -- especially with respect to the future of public higher education.

France CordovaFirst, the formative experiences of the recent past, my past, and how these have set the stage for the present.

Early in my administration, the university community defined and the trustees approved "New Synergies," a strategic plan with three principal goals:

  • Launching Tomorrow's Leaders
  • Discovery with Delivery, and
  • Meeting Global Challenges

These goals have guided our efforts over the past four years, and we have reached many of our objectives. This has been accomplished through the teamwork, talent, initiative and the diligent effort of an incredible faculty and staff, and an extraordinary student body.

Always our first, our most important goal, is Launching Tomorrow's Leaders.

To see how we’ve done, look no further than our students. Purdue is recruiting first-rate young scholars, and enabling them to become leaders, through programs like Emerging Leaders, Student Government, the President's Leadership Class, and many others. Consider the international students we just honored. Or consider Anne Zakrajsek who has already left her mark on the world through her passion for assistive and rehabilitative technologies. As both an undergraduate and a master's student, she used Purdue resources to develop and commercialize two products with great medical potential. Now, as a PhD student, she aspires to help other Purdue students make and deliver similar discoveries that will ease suffering -- and save lives. Consider our outstanding student athletes, who have left an indelible leadership mark on their fellow students.

We find student leaders in every department and at every level of Purdue. To make them tomorrow's leaders, we must only provide them the launch pad and allow them to take the controls.

That's truer today than ever before, given recent gains in the preparedness of our students. After years of stagnation, the average ACT and SAT scores of our accepted applicants have risen every year. More of our accepted students also graduated from high school in the top ten percent of their class than ever before. And our entering students are now required to have four years of high school math.

These gains in student preparedness are directly related to gains in retention. By increasing preparedness, as well as the numbers of scholarships for all income levels, we have generated the highest retention rates in school history. Retention is above 90% from first to second year. The retention gains for underrepresented minorities are also noteworthy. Five years ago, URM students were 11 percent more likely to leave Purdue after the first year than their classmates; today it's fallen to a difference of just 2.5 percent. Contributing to retention and student success are many wonderful programs, most of them new, led by our staff and faculty. Examples are BoilerGoldRush, increased learning communities, the Foundations of Excellence initiatives, course transformations mentored by Project Impact, and course technology aides like Signals and Hotseat.

Well-prepared freshmen are also more likely to become graduating seniors who give the university high marks. Graduating Boilermakers rate their academic experience far better than students from our Big-10 peer schools. According to the data, Purdue seniors feel more supported; Purdue seniors had more opportunities for research, internships and hands-on learning; and they rate their overall educational experience more positively. And parents love their students' job prospects; witness our #4 ranking in the Wall Street Journal’s survey of 800 corporate employers.

With a new, Senate-approved outcomes-based curriculum, and the promise of launching soon both a university-wide Honors College and a Discovery College for undecided majors, the future looks very bright for Purdue students.

Second, there is our research and economic development goal: Discovery with Delivery.

We are making great progress along the path from discovery to delivery. Our annual research expenditures, now exceeding $600 million, are at a record high and still climbing. Our awards have increased by 26% from FY08 to the present. Federal support during this time increased by 61%. Purdue patents have also more than doubled over the past decade, as has our Net License income. It all happens because of gifted faculty who are driven by a search for new knowledge and its application.

Evidence of extraordinary faculty is in these statistics and in the many awards accorded to our faculty over the past few years: a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, two World Food Prizes, two National Medal of Technology awards, numerous young investigator awards and many elections to the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

With new faculty recruiting and retention efforts (e.g. Leading Faculty program, Cluster hires, and the Strategic Hiring Opportunity Initiative), we hope to increase the faculty talent for which Purdue is deservedly known.

Our third goal is about engagement and outreach: Meeting Global Challenges.

At no time in our past have we done more to partner globally, through policy and research, and through education, training and exchange of personnel. Nations send their best and their brightest to Indiana in increasing numbers because they recognize the value of a Purdue degree. Companies abroad send their personnel to be educated by Purdue, in person or online. We have formed partnerships with heads of state, leading international universities and global businesses.

One example is Nanshan Aluminum. Headquartered in the Shandong Province of China, the company is building a branch plant in Lafayette, Indiana. Part of this is due to the favorable business climate in the state, and part is due to the fact that among the company’s leaders is a young Purdue alumnus who had a vision.

Just a few weeks ago I led a delegation of faculty and administrators to the nation of Colombia. There is a hunger in that country for the benefits science and technology can bring to addressing regional challenges, and an eagerness to train their own young people to enter these fields. In fact, Purdue represents the path to a brighter future for Latin America. Our faculty, in turn, realized early that Purdue can be a university leader for the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere.

How is Purdue regarded in Colombia? It’s not every day that a university president and her colleagues are invited to meet with and hear the bold visions of both the current and past Presidents of a country transforming itself, or to discuss science, technology and education challenges and goals with Ministers, Governors and Mayors of the nation's largest cities, or to be invited to collaborate with the country's foremost universities, or invited to talk about the impact of scholarships with billionaire industrialists. As a sign of how welcome Purdue is in Colombia, your president received the keys to the city of Cartagena. I would be pleased to loan them to you if you wish to visit the city ...

As we departed the country, an editorial in a Colombian paper was titled, "No Solo Harvard." It's not just about Harvard, said the journalist; Purdue University is the place to go to for computer science, civil engineering, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. What struck me was that the Purdue-Colombian efforts represent true engagement that empowers in both directions; this strategy promises to have lasting value.

Our global reach, of course, extends much farther. We have made strong partnerships in Asia (examples are China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, India, and Korea) and next month, I and Arden Bement will make a trip to African nations with Gebisa Ejeta, one of our World Food Prize winners. There our focus will be on increasing food production and sustainability through partnerships with governments and universities. Purdue faculty members have already made impactful footprints in Africa. Our Boiler Nation is much larger than any one of us knows.

We have achieved much through our Strategic Plan, despite the worst economic recession this country has seen since the Great Depression. We have taken dramatic action in order to operate at state authorized spending levels similar to those of a decade ago. We have returned $45 million to the state, and through our Sustaining New Synergies Initiative, we also have offset our recurring budget needs by over $60M per year. Through these efforts we have been able to sustain progress in our strategic plan. And we have done so without large-scale, involuntary reductions in our workforce. It hasn’t been easy and it hasn't been without sacrifice. But it has allowed us to establish a streamlined annual budget baseline that is tens of millions of dollars lower than before, year after year. And so, I want to thank you all for your commitment and your creativity.

I have talked about the past and the present. I will now cast an eye to the future, specifically, the future of the public higher education.

What do signals from the Statehouse, signals from Washington, and signals from the public portend for Purdue, a public research university whose aspiration is to provide a high-quality education to its students and a broad transformative economic impact?

Nothing is easier to see in our crystal ball than the need for a flexible, adaptable, and responsive funding model.

Over the past few decades, tuition rates nationwide have climbed inexorably, and contributions from State governments have declined steadily. Federal funding for research is currently under challenge, owing to the large national debt. In this climate the sustainability of the current funding model for public higher education is under a microscope.

The pressure for change is strong. Voices call for greater efficiency and still lower cost, even as we cut and contain costs.

Consider President Obama's January State of the Union warning that, "If [universities] can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding [they] get from taxpayers will go down."

It’s not a question of whether schools nationwide pursue alternate funding sources and new efficiencies. It’s a question of whether they do so on their terms and with thoughtful planning -- or whether they are mandated to do so in response to government directives and with haste.

The pressure goes beyond cutting costs and increasing affordability. Legislators may increasingly scrutinize university expenditures. They may require evidence that government dollars are producing gainfully employed, financially unburdened graduates, especially in disciplines deemed to be of vital national interest. They may call on universities to be more focused on developing job skills and enhancing economic growth. In this clamor, the conversation about universities as places for scholarship, self-discovery, and discovering new knowledge may be increasingly muted.

There are other strains on public institutions of higher education. As in any marketplace, a rise in demand produces a rise in competition. So as more people want the benefits of higher education, education providers are entering the market. Private entities, many of them web-based, are already creating alternatives to the traditional higher-education model.

With the competition for students more intense, many education providers will strive to accommodate students according to the learning style of their choice. As a society, we are increasingly accustomed to accessing information through virtual collaboration and on-demand resources. These are becoming essential elements of the classroom experience. Students exhibit waning interest in learning through lecture and textbooks only. They want teamwork and experiential learning.

As a result, there is pressure on universities to broaden the definition of a classroom. The lecture hall is being redefined.

Beyond technology, the classroom of the future will also be defined by new partnerships. In the commercial world, when a market becomes more competitive it breeds mergers and partnerships. Universities are under pressure to do the same through carefully chosen alliances with industry and coordination with global institutions.

Purdue is well positioned to meet these trends and challenges. We have always focused on innovation. Through programs like Signals and Hotseat, we have introduced innovative learning technologies that help educators monitor progress and adapt to unique student needs. We have always focused on entrepreneurship, and have four statewide technology parks and many learning programs, like our entrepreneurship certificate for students, to show for it. And we have skated to where the financial puck is going through our new Decadal Funding Plan.

One year ago in my State of the University address I announced the need for a ten-year, or Decadal, Funding Plan.

This Plan marks a shift in approach from short-term, biannual planning synchronized with the State’s budget cycle, to long-term planning, with the horizon of a decade. After a lot of strategizing and many meetings last Spring and Summer, such a funding concept became defined.

Among its key initiatives are to devise an efficient, balanced trimester calendar (instead of the current semester calendar); this would offer more flexibility to students and faculty and allow students to graduate faster. It is cheaper because it would leverage on our current facilities, which are mostly dormant during summer months.

An additional set of initiatives is centered on innovation and includes: an Innovation and Commercialization Center, an applied Research Institute, and online courses in specialized domains, like nano-technology building on our Hub concept. This collection of initiatives will enable discoveries to move to the marketplace faster, increase revenue for the university, and spur economic growth in Indiana. All of these initiatives, and others in development under the Decadal Funding Plan, are designed to double funding capacity to insure that the next ten years are as fruitful as the past ten years have been.

Both our Strategic plan and the fiscally supportive Decadal Funding Plan are designed to help Purdue become the university that it aspires to be in quality and reputation.

I'd like to close with a few remarks about the higher-purpose of higher education. The external fiscal backdrop that I have talked about has exacerbated a divide between those who insist that the purpose of a university is to focus on job preparation for its students -- and those who hold that universities are places for developing critical thinking skills and self-awareness. Somehow the things that make us human -- an appreciation of the arts, culture, history, communication, and writing -- are fading from today’s picture of a university.

The state of Purdue today is that we choose to emphasize both purposes.

Through discovery with delivery, emphasis on efficient and effective Purdue, and our historic cultivation of entrepreneurship and technological program strength, our University is preparing students for future markets. Through emphasis on the humanities and social sciences and extracurricular leadership experiences we are preparing students as future citizens. A university is about discovering a universe of thought and culture, of history and reflection, of learning to ask why, and why not.

As a university we are sensible, accountable and flexible to the changes ahead, but we will continue to teach our students to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. We will adapt to the revenue challenges and the technology changes of the future, but we will not lose sight of our higher purpose, which is higher education.

It has been the honor of my lifetime to work alongside you as we have guided Purdue to this vision. Each of you has contributed as faculty, staff, students or community supporters. As Boilermakers, we have “hammered down” through the worst economic challenges higher education has faced. And we have "boilered up" to opportunity. We have taken the future in our own hands. Today the State of our university is stronger than ever. Through the efforts of countless individuals, past and present, Purdue is ready for the future. Bring it on. Boiler Up and Hail Purdue!

Thank you!

And now, my staff has prepared a video that highlights some of the most notable experiences that we have shared over the last several years.

Let's watch.