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Trusteeship Magazine

A Commitment to Keeping College Affordable

By Thomas E. Spurgeon
September/October
2014

Attaining access to higher education is as important as nearly any other challenge facing young people today. We and they know the great value in a college education. We know the opportunities available to those who complete their degrees. We know the need in our country, our states, our cities, and our towns for employees who have the training for jobs in today’s global marketplace.

And yet, the cost of that education is a troublesome burden to so many students and their families. In fact, according to a national survey, the top reasons a student doesn’t enroll at his or her first-choice school have to do with affordability (UCLA Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 2013).

The board of trustees at Purdue University is very aware of this burden and of the need for colleges and universities to make affordability a priority. With a charge from this board to find solutions to the affordability challenge, President Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. and the faculty and staff of Purdue have made significant strides in holding down or reducing costs for students while continuing to invest in the important work and mission of our institution. We are extremely proud of the progress that has been made.

As we knew it would, our university community has taken up the cause that resulted from President Daniels’ statement: “Our students and their families deserve a high-value education that they can afford. We will fit our spending to their budgets, not the other way around.”

Thus far, our board has endorsed and approved the freezing of tuition and most fees at 2012–13 levels through at least 2015–16. That means students who entered college in fall 2012 will be able to attend four full years for the same base tuition. Before this move, Purdue had not held tuition flat since 1976.

Beyond tuition, we have lowered costs—by 5 percent two years in a row—for room and board. And, attending to the third-largest expense for students, we have partnered with Amazon.com to offer students better deals on textbooks and supplies.

Other initiatives underway throughout the university system include the planned unification of administrative areas at two of our regional campuses, Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central, which will become Purdue Northwest.

Creative thinking in curriculum also is designed to help our students spend less. A challenge by President Daniels in January led to the development of a three-year degree by faculty in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. Other colleges and schools are working on similar options.

These initiatives are not easy, by any means. We can do this because of the efforts of every one of our faculty and staff members, who have been looking at their spending and ensuring they are focused on activities that benefit our students and advance our mission. They have renegotiated contracts, worked to buy in bulk where appropriate, sold seldom-used items, and jettisoned rental space no longer needed. They have saved millions with a new utilities-management plan and a reworked process for awarding construction contracts, and millions more on a restructured medical plan and cash-management strategy.

Further reflecting our board’s emphasis on affordability, President Daniels participates in a compensation program in which a portion of his pay is at risk, based on the goals set out for him by this board. Those goals include affordability and measures of student success.

While we’re focused on being affordable, we cannot and will not sacrifice our mission-central goals for quality in learning, discovery, and engagement. We have committed to Purdue Moves, a range of initiatives designed to broaden our global impact and enhance educational opportunities for our students. Because we are carefully managing our expenses, we can invest in our areas of strength in world-changing research, leadership in the STEM disciplines, and transformative education.

As trustees, we are determined that Purdue University will continue to rise in excellence, to provide higher education at the highest proven value, and to impact the world.

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