When the fall 2000 semester began, Purdue's West Lafayette campus had a record enrollment of 37,871 students, including the best-prepared freshman class in the University's history. The Office of Admissions stopped accepting new student applications at the beginning of April, the first time this ever had happened before the end of spring semester classes.
This year the demand for Purdue programs is even stronger. Applications received have increased by 9 percent to date. As of the end of February, most academic programs at West Lafayette are at capacity for new students, and the rest are expected to close by mid-March. However, Purdue's regional campuses will continue to accept new freshmen, and West Lafayette still has room for transfer students from other universities and from the regional campuses.
The incoming class at West Lafayette will be even stronger this fall. The average Scholastic Aptitude Test score for the new class will go up again after an increase of 19 points last year and an improvement of 34 points over the past four years. The average high school class ranking also will improve again to about the 78th percentile.
In order to maintain the quality of the educational experience for our students, our goal this fall is a total enrollment in West Lafayette close to where we are this year. Campus resources facilities, faculty, staff, budget are operating at peak capacity right now, and we'd rather have the same, or somewhat fewer, students than jeopardize the excellence of our programs by getting bigger.
We think the best way to manage these enrollment numbers is to base admissions on academic measures, and thus to be a bit more selective. At the same time, we are stepping up merit-based financial aid for highly competitive students.
Other indicators also are looking very good for Purdue. Private support of the University is on a sharp upswing. After contributing just under $90 million during the last fiscal year, alumni, friends, corporations and foundations had given nearly $110 million to Purdue by the end of January with five months still to go in the current fiscal year!
Likewise, awards for research and other sponsored programs have increased. Research support had surpassed $104 million by the end January, an increase of 44 percent over the total on that date last year. In the same period, total sponsored program activity increased by almost one-quarter to more than $125 million. These funds are awarded competitively on the basis of proposals submitted by our faculty. In addition to supporting research that has the potential to change our lives for the better, the money as it is expended represents a significant infusion into the state's economy.
Private giving and research funding provide support for some very important things at the University, including scholarships, academic programs and facilities. However, the vast majority of the money in both categories has very restricted use. Donors and funding agencies are very specific about how it must be used. In addition, these funds are non-recurring. Therefore, they don't help with salaries and other ongoing expenses.
The operating support for Purdue and other public universities comes primarily from the state and from the tuition and fees paid by our students. In last month's letter, I talked at some length about Indiana's fiscal situation and my concerns about higher education funding for the coming biennium.
Since then, the House of Representatives has passed a budget that while it falls far short of what we believe is needed is a step in the right direction. The House budget provides some increased funding for salaries and expenses, supports some new initiatives and addresses some capital needs. It also restores about half of the non-recurring technology funding that has been part of the higher education budget for the past four years.
The people of Indiana owe the members of the House and the Ways and Means Committee, which crafted the budget, a vote of thanks. The representatives clearly recognized the importance of education to our state and worked hard to develop a bipartisan plan that supported the K-12 system, as well as the colleges and universities.
In the seven months I have been at Purdue, I have visited numerous Indiana communities, spoken to a variety of groups and talked with thousands of individuals. It is clear that the people of the state understand the connection between education and a high quality of life. They know that the futures of their children and the success of the state's economy depend on our having first-rate schools, colleges and universities.
As the budget process moves forward, I will be urging our state's leaders to do everything in their power to safeguard our future by making good decisions on education funding.