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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Purdue setting example with tuition freezes

Since arriving on the West Lafayette campus as Purdue University’s president in January 2013, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has instituted a tuition freeze. And, according to a Lafayette Journal and Courier report last week, tuition will stay frozen through the 2021-22 school year.

Daniels, who made that announcement to alumni at an annual President’s Council weekend in Naples, Fla., on Feb. 15, has said as long as Purdue is able to balance its budget, invest in capital projects and increase the faculty ranks, he doesn’t see a reason to charge students more.

It’s time more universities, especially in Indiana, follow Purdue’s example.

Daniels’ decision to freeze tuition in 2013 started a trend that is gaining popularity across the country, saving students and parents millions of dollars. University systems in Virginia and Pennsylvania announced last year that tuition would not rise in the present academic year, according to a piece written in July by Jenna A. Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

The Lafayette newspaper reported Purdue announced a year ago that tuition and fees would stay at $9,992 a year for in-state students and $28,794 for out-of-state students for the coming academic year, 2020-21. Continuing the freeze into 2021-22 would be the ninth consecutive year with no increase in tuition.

“It’s a judgment call, but we know families like to plan,” Daniels told the Journal and Courier. “And that’s why we’ve been trying to give an advance notice.”

Daniels said his decision to extend the freeze is based on the fact applications are strong. “Another factor that has a bearing here is persistence, which is to say the percentage of students who are staying and completing,” he said. “As that’s gone up, that’s given us greater assurance.”

The Lafayette newspaper reported that Purdue’s undergraduate enrollment reached a record of 33,646 and a record overall enrollment of 44,551 this year.

The Journal and Courier reported that since the fall of 2014, based on tuition and fee figures kept by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, other Indiana campuses have trended up in tuition, through projected costs in 2020-21. The paper listed Indiana University in Bloomington, up 8 percent, to $11,221; Ball State up 8.6 percent, to $10,144; Indiana State up 12.5 percent, to $9,466, and the University of Southern Indiana up 21.6 percent, to $8,146.

University administrators, governing boards and state lawmakers can and should learn from Purdue’s success, writes Robinson. She lists important lessons for policymakers who want to replicate Daniels’ success. 1. Revenues and expenses both play a role – in order to keep tuition the same, Daniels increased revenues from other sources while cutting wasteful spending; 2. Additional appropriations are not required – Purdue has managed its tuition freeze without additional state funds. The university spends significantly less than its peers; 3. Cutting the budget doesn’t mean cutting quality – Purdue has maintained its academic quality. Since the tuition freeze and budget cuts, student retention rates have held steady. In every year since the cuts, more than 90 percent of Purdue freshmen have returned to campus for their sophomore year.

We like Purdue’s strategy, and we like the trend of freezing tuition when stable revenue and growing enrollment allow. We’d like to see our other state universities follow suit.

As Robinson concluded in her essay, university administrators, governing boards and state lawmakers across the state and the nation can learn from Daniels’ success at Purdue and use his methods to freeze tuition and cut costs, “improving the value of public higher education to students, citizens, and taxpayers.”

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