INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Wednesday discussed his many ideas about improving the state's higher education system, but he wouldn't say whether he plans to be the next president of Purdue University.
The Republican governor has focused extensively on improving Indiana higher education during his eight years in office, bringing Western Governors University to the state and calling for limits on the number of credits schools can require for a degree, in an attempt to make college more affordable.
"There are some big challenges, but somebody's got to solve them, for the interest of our state and our country," he said Wednesday.
Daniels' comments came a day after Indianapolis news outlets reported he will be chosen to replace retiring university president France Cordova. Daniels said he plans to complete his term in office, which ends in January, but he would not discuss his future.
"It's just not appropriate," he told reporters following an economic development announcement in Indianapolis. "It's not a topic for today."
Purdue's Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote Thursday on hiring a new president. WISH-TV and The Indianapolis Star, citing anonymous sources, reported Wednesday that Daniels would be the pick to lead the state's second-largest university.
Daniels' office has declined to comment on the reports and Purdue officials have said they won't identify candidates for the job before the vote.
Cordova is retiring next month after five years as leader of the school that has about 75,000 students on its West Lafayette and regional campuses.
Daniels declined last year to seek the Republican presidential nomination, citing family considerations, but has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate to presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
The 63-year-old Daniels, who received a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1971 and a law degree from Georgetown University in 1979, would become the first president of Purdue without extensive experience administering an institute of higher education.
Democrats have questioned whether it would be ethical for the trustees to vote to give the Purdue job to Daniels because he appointed 8 of the 10 trustees to their posts.
"It's a little bit troubling that you have a board that is appointed by the governor then choosing that same person to lead the institution," said state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
While refusing to address the Purdue job directly, Daniels said Wednesday that he believes changes are needed in the current approach to higher education. He said there are more Americans with college loan debt than degrees and that situation can't be sustained.
"You can't pick up a magazine or a newspaper these days without reading an article challenging higher education as it is. For the first time, people are writing books and articles about 'is college worth it?'" he said.
Daniels also refuted an point often made by Indiana university leaders, that cuts in state aid have forced tuition increases over the past few years.
"That's not true," Daniels said. "The more money that's been poured in, the faster tuitions have gone up. It would be a very flawed analysis that suggested it worked the other way around."
State lawmakers pressed Indiana colleges last year on a series of proposed tuition hikes, asking why they were necessary during a September meeting of the state budget committee. Cordova blamed the tuition hikes on cuts made by the state, noting in prepared remarks that the school's most recent round of state aid was roughly $10 million less than it received in the 2009 budget year.
"In the end, Purdue's request was not fully funded, and our Trustees approved an increase in tuition," she wrote in prepared remarks.
If he takes the job, Daniels would be walking into the center of a national debate over the direction of higher education that has been sparked in part by a paucity of resources, said Patrick Callan, president of the California-based Higher Education Policy Institute.
The national debate for a half a century was focused mostly on how to get students into four-year institutions, but the debate is increasingly shifting to how to get them out of four-year college with a degree, he said.
"This is a very painful transition for this system of American education that has led the world for most of the time since World War II," Callan said.