The Agenda

Today’s Policy Agenda: Mitch Daniels Is Fighting College Inflation

Mitch Daniels showing the way on higher-ed reform.

Former Indiana governor and now Purdue University president Mitch Daniels is providing a model for fighting college-tuition inflation and reforming the higher-education landscape, as Douglas Belkin reports in the Wall Street Journal:

A year and a half into his tenure, Mr. Daniels has frozen tuition (for the first time in 36 years), cut the cost of student food by 10% and introduced volume purchasing to take advantage of economies of scale.

In May, he rolled out the first results from a Gallup poll of 30,000 college graduates from hundreds of schools aimed at discerning what value a university education adds to a person’s success and well-being. The results have shed new light on a question that has moved to center stage in higher education: What is the real return on investment for a college degree?

With the poll, the former two-term Republican governor of Indiana is drawing a line in the sand against which U.S. higher education can be measured. And by freezing tuition, he is forcing his own school to modernize its 19th-century business model with a combination of systemic cuts, organizational realignments and cash incentives . . .

Mr. Daniels says he is consolidating administrative jobs where prudent and leaving jobs unfilled where the duplication of effort makes that possible. He has jettisoned 10 university cars, consolidated hundreds of thousands of feet of off-campus rental storage and introduced a higher-deductible health-care plan.

He has also created two, half-million-dollar prizes for the first department that devises a three-year degree or a degree based on what a student already knows, not the number of hours he or she sits in a class. This summer, the school offered 200 more classes than last year in an effort to speed time to degree and generate more income for the school.

Daniels’s reforms at Purdue closely hew to the underlying ideas Andrew Kelly recommends in his Room to Grow chapter. Kelly’s proposals, including reforming student loans and making the return on investment at each school more transparent, would make schools sensitive to the cost increases of their product, would encourage them to design a program that more consistently delivers positive outcomes, and push the creation of innovative business models that could change college as we know it.

Capturing working class voters is the key to winning elections.

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball identifies a metric that often predicts the outcome of elections and comes with implications for Republicans hoping to win again:

Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn’t vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group’s vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade

In 2004, Democrats won the working-class vote by 11 points; George W. Bush was reelected. In 2006, Democrats won the working-class vote by 22 points and took the House and Senate. In 2008, Democrats won by 22 points again, and President Obama was elected. In 2010, the margin narrowed to 11 points, and Republicans took the House back. In 2012, Obama was reelected—on the strength of another 22-point margin among voters making under $50,000.

‘It doesn’t often get reported, but the key indicator that has been decisive for the last several elections is how people making below the median income vote,’ Podhorzer said this week. Black or white, Asian or Hispanic, male or female, young or old, it’s that simple. To reach these voters, Podhorzer believes, candidates need to focus on the economic issues of the working class. ‘Economic populism decides who wins elections in America,’ he said.

The moral case for centering the Republican agenda on middle and lower-class voters should be clear enough, but the evidence above makes clear that from a self-interested, political perspective, Republicans need a domestic agenda that better appeals to the interests and needs of the working class. Luckily, whether it’s Paul Ryan’s new poverty plan or Mike Lee’s family-centered tax proposal or any of the other reform conservative ideas gaining traction, conservatives appear to be well on their way to developing such an agenda, and as Ross Douthat explains this weekend, such an agenda is finally taking shape.

Rand Paul continues his work on criminal-justice reform.

Last week, Paul introduced the FAIR Act which he described in a press release:

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property. 


The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

The FAIR Act seeks to address civil asset forfeiture, a legitimate policy power often unjustly exerted by the government — some of the most absurd abuses were profiled by The New Yorker last year. This is just another positive step for Paul, who also made a speech at the National Urban League conference that earned praise last week. In a large sense, it’s interesting to see the Republican party beginning to take the fiscal and human costs of some elements of our criminal justice system seriously. In his major antipoverty plan proposal, Paul Ryan emphasized the importance of sentencing reform, and Republicans should continue to consider these issues going forward.


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