WHEN he left Indiana’s governor’s office after eight tumultuous years of dramatic change, there was some speculation that Mitch Daniels might settle into a more sedate routine. It seemed to be confirmed when he accepted the position as president of Purdue University.
During his tenure as governor, the former business executive and one-time White House budget director led the state through several changes — streamlining the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, taking the state off daylight saving time, leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a private company, putting caps on property taxes, and others. The changes were all the more remarkable because they had been talked about but never acted upon for decades.
Becoming the president of a major university in Indiana, however, is markedly different than being the governor of a state. Change does not come easily on college campuses. Until now.
Earlier this month, Daniels shook up the academic world in general and the Purdue establishment in particular when he announced a two-year freeze on student tuition. If there are inevitable things in this world other than death and taxes, tuition increases rank right at the top. At Purdue, tuition has increased every year since 1976.
A college education has been placed out of reach for many students, even at a state institution like Purdue. Although student aid is available in most instances, the cost just to attend classes often puts some graduates deep in debt before they have even drawn a paycheck.
Daniels’ action was dramatic and given in typical fashion. He announced the decision before the Indiana General Assembly had approved a budget that would give college administrators a clue as to what they would receive.
Said the Purdue president in his rookie year, “It doesn’t matter what the General Assembly does. It is the right thing to do, and we are going to do it.”
Unless Purdue and the other academic institutions in Indiana get a sudden windfall from the General Assembly, that phrase, “we are going to do it,” would indicate that the ball is in the court of the Purdue family. In order to afford the freeze, it would appear that the university is going to have to make some difficult budget decisions internally — a challenging process given the institutional reluctance to give up any advances made in the past.
Daniels has put the matter in stark terms. For the next two years, there will be no reliance on tuition increases to cover mounting costs. As far as a great many parents are concerned; that is a decision that is long overdue.