The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Most Successful University President in the Country?

State of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels takes part in a panel discussion titled “Why Wait for Washington? How States Can Create Jobs and Economic Growth” at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California May 1, 2012. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Overwhelmingly, American college and university presidents are true-believing leftists. They are eager to sign environmental manifestoes and hire more “diversity” administrators to signal their piety, but they couldn’t care less if the students learn anything of value.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Perhaps the most notable is Purdue University president Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana. He took his level-headed approach to politics with him when he became Purdue’s president in 2013. In today’s Martin Center article, Richard Vedder writes about his accomplishments.

First, he has kept tuition level at a time when at most schools, administrators have been squeezing more and more out of the students. Vedder writes,

When Daniels leaves Purdue’s presidency, tentatively planned for 2020 at age 71, the tuition level will be the same as it was when he took office at the beginning of 2013 — over seven years earlier. Correcting for inflation, published tuition fees probably will have fallen a good 10 percent during the Daniels presidency. Since incomes are rising (albeit perhaps too slowly), the burden of becoming a Purdue Boilermaker has been steadily declining — in marked contrast to earlier in history.

Another good feature of Daniels’s presidency has been the implementation of an innovative financing mechanism — Income Share Agreements (ISA). While others have been talking about ISA programs, Purdue did something. Vedder explains:

Purdue pays a given amount of the fees of selected students — lowering their direct financial burden of getting a Purdue degree. In return, the students contract to give Purdue a mutually agreed percentage of their income for a stated number of years after graduation. The financial risk of attending the school shifts from teenagers who have little or no experience with major financial matters to the provider of the educational service. Purdue thus has “skin in the game” with respect to its own students.

Another interesting development at Purdue is that it is generating funds by relying on its expertise — rather than begging for money from taxpayers. How so? Beer. Vedder again:

Boiler Gold American Golden Ale is the first beer developed by Purdue, quickly selling out at this year’s first football game. As President Daniels has explained to me, Purdue has a rich agricultural tradition, and beer is an agricultural product — I believe the hops are grown nearby under Purdue’s direction. Purdue has a Hops and Brewing Analysis Lab, a School of Food Science, and so forth.

Maybe boards of directors, when they have to search for new leaders for their schools, will look for people with the qualities of Mitch Daniels rather than “progressive” academic ladder-climbers.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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