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March 25, 2013

Weekly Wrap: March 25, 2013

Daniels still shakes up state status quo

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, 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.

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.

— The Tribune, Seymour

Fewer dollars for higher ed is troubling

A well-known trend in higher education funding is having more of an impact on students who attend Indiana’s state universities than at those in other states.

The trend is toward a lowering of state support. A study called the State Higher Education Finance report issued by the State Higher Education Executive Officers revealed that state support across the country is at a 25-year low. Tuition for students has risen sharply as a result.

The uniquely bad news for Hoosiers is that state support is about $1,000 lower than the national average, while tuition accounted for about $1,800 more for Indiana’s state institutions.

The raw numbers are instructive.

In 2012, state dollars per full-time student amounted to $4,869, according to the study. In 1987, the amount was $7,887. Last year, net tuition revenue for each full-time student in Indiana was $7,019 compared to $3,915 in 1987.

The total of those two categories of funding has stayed about the same, but in 1987, 59 percent of the sum of those two numbers came from the state. In 2012, that number has dropped to 41 percent.

That illustrates the bind in which Indiana University and other state universities find themselves.

State dollars per individual student are simply not keeping pace. Still, lawmakers and other state officials moan about the expense of higher education and discourage universities from raising tuition.

That formula would not work in even a basic math course.

The study showed this indeed is a national issue. But it also showed the disparity between lower state support and rising tuition is worse in Indiana than many places.

While there are no quick fixes, admitting our problem is worse than other states’ is a place to begin.

— The Herald-Times, Bloomington

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