WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue University's decision to freeze tuition for the next two years is putting public scrutiny on policies at the state's other public universities, but many say they won't be pressured to follow suit.
President Mitch Daniels announced the freeze for Purdue's West Lafayette campus March 1, saying "it's time for us to hit the pause button on tuition increases." It's the first time in 36 years that Purdue students haven't seen an increase.
The decision pleased lawmakers drafting the state's next budget, including Sen. Luke Kenley, who criticized universities for tuition increases in 2009 while Daniels was governor and withheld funding for capital projects until they softened their stance.
While many agree that colleges can't sustain continued tuition increases if they're to remain affordable, schools like Indiana University say a freeze isn't the only way to go.
"Everybody seems to want to think, well, Purdue did something, so IU needs to respond," IU spokesman Mark Land told The Indianapolis Star. "We're not going to feel like we're pressured toward anything by anybody else's actions."
But Kenley, the Senate's point man on the two-year budget lawmakers are crafting, cautioned that any school that raises its costs this year should be prepared to justify the move.
Tuition increases across the country have exceeded the rate of inflation. At Purdue, for instance, tuition has more than doubled since 2002, when it was $4,164, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The rate now is $9,900 a year.
Daniels has targeted affordability and student debt issues since taking office at Purdue in January. He ordered the tuition freeze about six weeks after taking office, and Purdue is now cutting its expenses by $40 million to cover the money a tuition increase would have generated.
"Sometimes a person like that comes in and asks a set of questions that hasn't been asked before," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. "Why does tuition have to go up every year? What can we do to prevent that from happening?"
Educators say Daniels' move is only a temporary fix and doesn't address college affordability over the long term.
Other state universities are discounting tuition to help boost college completion rates. Students who are on track to graduate in four years can receive scholarships or have tuition frozen at Ball State and IU.
Both schools also reduce tuition for summer terms.
"We're trying to address cost and time to a degree whenever we can together," IU spokesman Land said.
Randy Howard, Ball State's vice president of business affairs and treasurer, said his school wants to keep tuition as low as possible but says Ball State faces pressures from declining education funding and increasing costs for health care and utilities.
"Could Ball State do something like Purdue? It's a different situation for us," he said.
How the tuition picture ultimately plays out across the state will hinge on the budget lawmakers will craft by the end of the month.