sealPresident's Annual Report

Purdue works to sustain quality in face of less support

October 1998

We call it "the scissors."

As you can see, it's a simple graph, consisting of two lines and a few numbers, but it tells very vividly the story of one of Purdue's greatest challenges. The upper line -- representing the state of Indiana's share in the cost of a Purdue education -- slides progressively downward. The lower line -- the student's share -- moves up. A casual glance reveals that the lines are destined very soon to cross, completing the "scissors" image.

In 1981, the state's annual operating appropriation to Purdue covered about 72 percent of the cost of a student's education. Today, that portion has dropped to 55 percent. Although this trend has led inevitably to higher fees for students, those increased fees have not made up the difference.

In fact, Purdue and Indiana University have, by far, the lowest revenue in the Big Ten from student fees and state appropriations. The other public institutions in the conference operate with between $19 million and $276 million more each year than Purdue, and the situation is not improving. Between 1992 and the current fiscal year, Purdue's operating appropriation went up by a total of 9 percent -- the smallest increase in the Big Ten. Other institutions have experienced increases of as much as 35 percent.

With this pattern of lagging support, and these huge disparities in resources between the University and its peer institutions, how can Purdue continue to be a leading-edge institution? How can it preserve the stellar quality that always has been part of its identity?

These are questions that University faculty and administrators face every day, and they are matters of deep concern. People who do not know Purdue from the inside find it difficult to imagine that this is an institution that must struggle to maintain its excellence. Enrollment at the main campus in West Lafayette is at an all-time high. The facilities on all our campuses are impressive and meticulously maintained. Purdue's faculty is busy and productive in teaching, research and service.

All the outward manifestations of success are present; and, indeed, we approach the 21st century with great optimism. Yet, we are challenged because we must compete with other great universities that simply have more money. The issue is quality, and the key is people.

Faculty members are not interchangeable. Like great athletes, individuals who are truly gifted in teaching and research develop national reputations very early. Purdue and other universities recruit them vigorously from the time they receive their doctoral degrees, and we do our best to attract and retain them throughout their careers. Institutions that compete successfully for enough of these exceptional people become great.

Money is seldom the primary motivator for someone who chooses the academic life, but professors do live in the real world. They have mortgages to pay, children to raise and educate, and financial security to worry about. So their career decisions sometimes are influenced by compensation. However, the most compelling arguments often are related to support for their work. Better equipment, more space, increased staff support, accelerated classes, and the opportunity to work with other faculty members who are leaders in their disciplines are powerful incentives for people who want to take their work to the highest level.

Purdue has never used scarcity of resources as an excuse. Throughout its history, the University has set high goals for itself and achieved them through hard work, creativity and excellent management. This basic approach has not changed, but some of the challenges are different today. For example, upgrading and replacement of computers and software -- something that barely existed 20 years ago -- is now an ongoing expense for universities. Likewise, environmental restrictions, accessibility needs of those with disabilities and other governmental requirements add significantly to the cost of operating a large enterprise.

Purdue's job is to meet these challenges, while remaining focused on its real goals: the education of students at an affordable cost, the creation of new knowledge, and serving the state's economic needs.

The economic component of our mission has grown in importance in recent years. As we near the turn of the century, it has taken on global dimensions and will place increasing demands on the University.

Purdue's ability to prepare people for productive lives and to harness the innovations of our faculty for economic development will play a key role in the future prosperity of Indiana. We also have an obligation to be a resource for business, industry, agriculture, government and the schools that educate our children.

Despite the relative decline in public support, the University continues to carry out those missions and to look for new challenges. A variety of factors are responsible for this continued success:

  • The resourcefulness of dedicated faculty and administrators, who take tremendous pride in their work and in the institution.

  • Increased involvement by alumni, friends and corporate partners, who are providing support at record levels.

  • The Excellence 21 program, through which Purdue is developing an attitude of continuous improvement in activities throughout the University.

  • Increased efforts to secure federal and corporate support for research programs.

  • The loyalty and dedication that characterize the Purdue family, from students to faculty to alumni. I believe there is an absolute commitment to the ideal that the quality of a Purdue education is sacred and that there can be no compromise on that.

This report offers a glimpse at some of the things that have kept us very busy during the past year -- and at the things that excite and motivate us for the future.

Steven C. Beering

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