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2013-04-02

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April 1, 2013 - 9:25pm

Seeing Red: From Main Street to State Street

BY MICHAEL SWAIN

For the state of Indiana, Mitch Daniels is the gift that keeps on giving. As governor from 2005 to 2013, he put the state’s fiscal house in order and made it a more attractive place to do business. In January, he took over as president of Purdue University. And last month, he became the first college president in America to showthat he’sserious about addressing the problem behind skyrocketing college tuition hikes.

In a two-page letter to his colleagues dated March 18, Daniels calls for small sacrifices from the university (including a freeze on salary increases for faculty making over $50,000), in order to pay for a corresponding freeze on tuition increases:

“We must never forget that the dollars we are privileged to spend at our university come for the most part from either a student’s family or a taxpayer,” Daniels writes. “Any unnecessary expenditure by definition either limits our ability to invest in the excellence of our teaching and research or, if paid for by higher tuition charges, makes coming to Purdue more of a financial burden…It has been too easy in higher education for institutions to decide first what they would like to spend, and then raise student bills to produce the desired funds. That approach has run its course.”

Quite simply, there’s a fine line between the services and amenities that we expect from a large institution and the bloated excesses of “Big College.” And Mitch Daniels has instructed his colleagues to find it.

Politicians love to come to college campuses to talk about skyrocketing tuition. They campaign on the idea of making college affordable because it polls well with students. Most of the time, these politicians are referring to increasing funding for the Pell Grant program, which does absolutely nothing to combat skyrocketing tuition. Pell Grants have played a key role in helping underprivileged students pay for an education, but the idea of combating tuition increases with Pell Grants is akin to fighting a campus-wide flu epidemic by preemptively supplying every student with a bottle of NyQuil — by the time you need the remedy, the damage has already been done. By attacking the problem from its core, Mitch Daniels has quietly chosen Indiana families over the special interests that have for so long run public universities.

Do you ever gone online to look up your professors’ salaries? More shocking than any one tenured faculty member’s six-figure sum is the rate at which their salaries increase. Over the past decade, it’s become a commonplace populist tactic to express outrage over CEO salaries and bonuses on Wall Street. Maybe it’s time that we, the Michigan taxpayers and student loan debtors, began to turn our attention to State Street.

Michael Swain can be reached at miswain@umich.edu.


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