sealPurdue Letter from the President

August, 1998

Articles in two magazines caught my eye in recent weeks. The first was Biz Voice, a new publication of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. In its report on an annual survey of the business community, the magazine noted that key decision makers in Indiana list state universities among the five most positive factors in our state's business climate.

The second magazine was the August 31 issue of Business Week, which contained a series of articles on the economy of the twenty-first century. The editors' conclusions:

  • Although there are potential pitfalls, a long period of unprecedented and sustainable prosperity is possible for the United States and much of the world if we make good economic and political decisions.

  • This prosperity is dependent on innovation -- the continued development of ideas that create pioneering industries, new products and better jobs.

  • The human factor is crucial. By improving schools and increasing the number of people who continue their education beyond high school, we can both increase productivity and extend the benefits of prosperity throughout the population.

Business Week also is careful to note that the kind of innovation we need will come from basic research, the kind done at the great American universities. While applied research -- which is aimed at solving specific problems -- is valuable, it usually does not produce the kind of breakthroughs that lead to economic benefits.

America became the global leader in innovation and productivity following World War II when we made a commitment to basic research through the National Science Foundation. The benefits of that inspired decision still reverberate through our social and economic institutions. Many of the advances that undergird our current prosperity are rooted in the postwar era. We are poised now to begin a new era in which communications and information technology moves to new levels of sophistication, when the vast potential of the biological sciences are unlocked, and when a global economy vaults previously insurmountable international barriers.

Universities must be prepared to participate fully in this era, because they are the energizers of prosperity. We have a responsibility to look beyond our traditional roles to new partnerships with business, government, and the school systems that teach America's children.

At the same time, governmental leaders must make sure that operational and research support for higher education is adequate. Universities do not produce revenue, and they do not usually address short-term problems, so it is easy to forget how important they are to the vitality of our state and nation. Indiana's business leaders have indicated that they understand the value of these institutions to our state, and Business Week makes a compelling case for their global importance.

A record number of students enrolled on the West Lafayette campus in August. The excitement and energy that always mark the start of a new academic year were felt throughout the community as 36,878 Boilermakers moved in. This year's enrollment exceeds the previous 1991 record by 715. The freshmen class totals 7,086 students, up from 6,895 a year ago and the second-largest first-year class in Purdue's history. Throughout the Purdue system, steady enrollment growth continues with an estimated 66,260 students on all campuses for 1998-99.

This most encouraging pattern reflects a simple fact -- students are voting with their feet. The outstanding quality of academic programs, the high value of a Purdue degree in the job market, and the excellent quality of life our students enjoy are all factors in making this university the choice of so many people.

It's also noteworthy that Purdue continues to attract first-time students with top-notch academic credentials. We have more high-school valedictorians enrolled than in years past, and our new students' SAT scores have continued to climb each year. They now average more than 100 points above the state average. These statistics complement a 1997 report that gave Purdue a top-30 national ranking in the number of prestigious Freshman Merit Scholars enrolled, third among public Big Ten institutions.

As we continue to count on our dedicated admissions and counseling staffs, faculty and administrators in the academic schools, our alumni and friends -- and certainly our students -- to tell the good news about Purdue, it's our long-term plan to maintain enrollments at or near this year's record level.

Steven C. Beering