Purdue University President Mitch Daniels called on Congress to join a growing movement to reform higher education, making it more accessible and accountable to students, parents and taxpayers. Testifying on Tuesday, March 17 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education & Workforce, Subcommittee on Higher Education & Workforce Training, Daniels discussed the challenges and opportunities facing higher education and offered insights on reform initiatives underway at Purdue, a public land-grant institution.
Daniels also highlighted many of the public concerns about the cost and quality of higher education and what is being done at Purdue to address those issues.
“It’s now common to hear questions asked about higher education that few used to ask,” Daniels said. “Is a degree really worth it? What does a diploma really mean? Are universities teaching the skills society needs? Is university research addressing the world’s greatest challenges? How can today’s levels of student debt be justified?
“At Purdue we take these questions seriously. We’ve responded by prioritizing affordability, accountability and quality, or as we describe it, ‘higher education at the highest proven value.’”
In his testimony, Daniels urged Congress, as members work toward reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, to include provisions to reduce unnecessary regulation; simplify and target financial aid; and remove today’s many barriers to innovation.
Among changes Daniels urged were:
- Regulatory reforms. Daniels said universities are so heavily regulated that compliance costs drive up tuition. In Purdue’s case, Daniels said compliance costs could top $200 million per year, the equivalent of 20,000 full-tuition scholarships for resident students.
- Financial aid reform. The current financial aid system is laden with costly federal regulations, and the associated paperwork is unnecessarily complex for students and their families.
- Flexible Pell Grants. At Purdue, Daniels said the university is striving to create additional options that would allow students to graduate more quickly. Among these, is offering Purdue’s first three-year degree program and a broader strategy to shift to a year-round trimester schedule. Current limitations on when financial aid can be used act as a disincentive to such innovations, he said.
- Competency-based education. Last fall Purdue launched the country’s first competency-based education program on a major research campus. The program, in the new Purdue Polytechnic Institute, advances students based on subject mastery instead of credit hours completed. “Despite our optimism, the Purdue Polytechnic has been inhibited by the inflexibility of the federal definition of student progress,” he said. “Nationally, this is the largest roadblock to more widespread use of competency-based programs.”
- Accreditation reform. Daniels urged an overhaul of how university programs are accredited in a way that would streamline the process, lower costs and create alternative paths to federal aid eligibility that would benefit higher education startups and increase competition.
- Income share agreements. Daniels said Congress should provide protections and regulatory guidance for universities interested in developing programs that would allow investors, such as alumni, to fund a student’s college education in exchange for a small share of the student’s future income. He said such programs would create additional incentives for organizations to mentor and counsel students without the use of additional tax dollars.
In addition to its tuition freeze, Purdue also has worked to reduce the cost of room and board and to make textbooks more affordable through a partnership with Amazon, which was the first of its kind. Paired with enhanced financial counseling for students, total student debt at the university has dropped 18 percent – or about $40 million – over the past two years.
“These moves to address affordability and accountability have gone hand in hand with major investments in the quality of our teaching and research,” he said.
The investments have culminated in a series of initiatives known as Purdue Moves, which advance transformations that center around STEM leadership, world-changing research, transformative education, and affordability and accessibility.
The full text of Daniels’ testimony is available at http://www.purdue.edu/uns/images/2015/150317-house-testimony.pdf.