Too Bad There Are So Few Like Him | National Review

Too Bad There Are So Few Like Him | National Review

Purdue Boilermakers president Mitch Daniels watches a replay during the first quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., September 4, 2021. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Overwhelmingly, college and university presidents are chosen from lifelong academics who have risen through the ranks — professor to dean to provost to then the top job. But are those positions really the best preparation for the presidency? Might it be that they lead to a narrow vision with an obsession with academic fads (particularly “diversity”) and an inability to see where higher education fits into the wider national scene?

There is one notable exception to the general rule that university presidents come up through the ranks — Mitch Daniels of Purdue. Daniels was an Indiana politician, serving as governor for two terms, before being chosen to lead Purdue in 2013. In today’s Martin Center article, Rich Vedder writes about Daniels.

Writes Vedder, “At a time of stagnant national enrollments, Purdue’s are booming, at record highs. Student quality is rising. A remarkable tuition freeze has lowered the inflation-adjusted cost of Purdue by over 20 percent, making it the bargain school in the Big Ten.”

For a long time, university presidents have embraced the idea that the way to do the job is to raise all the money you possibly can and then spend it all, whether that spending has anything to do with improving the education offered or not (and most often, not). Daniels evidently didn’t get that memo.

Besides insisting on economy, Daniels has also embraced a different model of finance for students. Instead of going into debt for their college years, many Purdue students are availing themselves of a model whereby they are fronted the money they need while in school in return for repayment from their earnings later. Vedder explains: “Although somewhat constrained by laws and finances, Daniels has started to change the way students pay for college. Mitch correctly thought it strange that relatively financially unsophisticated teenagers amass large amounts of debts to pay for college, rather than sell equity (stock) in themselves, so he has started an Income Share Agreement plan at Purdue that has attracted an increasing number of students who contract to have their tuition (or part of it) at Purdue paid for while attending school in return for giving up a percentage of their postgraduate earnings.”

It would be a very good thing if Income Share Agreements spread far and wide.  They introduce market discipline into college decision-making.

Vedder concludes: “There are a lot of mediocre people and ideas contributing to American universities being excessively costly, with too little learning and vocational relevance, and a disturbing contempt for a diversity of ideas to challenge student minds. But there are also the leaders like Mitch Daniels who are striving to have America maintain and expand its higher educational exceptionalism in the decades ahead.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.