As a former Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels is uniquely qualified to help change the state’s higher education system for the better. It will be too bad if the baggage of his move from the governor’s office to the president’s office at Purdue University gets in the way.
The Purdue community, beginning with Daniels’ controversial hiring by many of his appointees, should have been prepared for their new president to shake things up on campus. That’s just what the policy wonk and former businessman did as a somewhat similar outsider in the Statehouse.
He took risks. Sometimes he failed. But the much success that is credited to him is largely because of his willingness to break with past practice.
Now at Purdue, Daniels is charting a course of “value” education, targeting low cost and high efficiency, championing a business model familiar from his time in state government.
Daniels also is facing fall-out over his attempt, as governor, to purge the work of historian Howard Zinn from the state’s K-12 curriculum. And he’s been linked to a scandal over changes his state education department made that benefited a well-connected charter school. That, it’s suggested, might thwart buy-in for Daniels’ plans for Purdue.
This spring, in the first few months of his administration at the university, Daniels acted to help students by freezing tuition and cutting spending.
Ideas for reforming the collapsing structure of state aid and tuition revenue call for building on Purdue’s respected science, technology, engineering and math programs, capitalizing more on research, improving use of learning technologies and revisiting trimester scheduling to help students more quickly complete their degrees.
Each of the components appears to have some merit. The American economy is demanding ever more highly educated workers. Families are increasingly stressed by costs that have rocketed in the competition among colleges and universities.
Clearly change is needed. Daniels may have solutions.
Let’s hope for Hoosiers’ sake that he does and that, if so, he gets the opportunity to prove it.