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Public Universities Can Save and Invest

By Purdue University President Mung Chiang:

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of 50 flagship universities across the U.S. found that over the past 20 years, college spending rose an average of 38% while the cost of tuition and fees for the average student rose 64%. While state funding at many of these schools decreased during the same period, the Journal noted most universities raised tuition and fees far higher than needed to make up the difference. Student debt has more than doubled over the past 20 years to a staggering $1.6 trillion — and that’s just in federal student loans. At the same time, structural deficits have started forcing universities to cut programs.

Starting with Mitch Daniels, my predecessor at Purdue University, our university has frozen students’ tuition costs for 12 years in a row. Room and board costs went from the most expensive of Big Ten Public to the most affordable. These prudent moves to sustain college affordability have saved students and their families more than $1 billion since 2013. Last year’s average debt per graduating student at Purdue was $11,500 while self-reported first year earnings averaged $68,000: that Earnings to Debt Ratio is 6. It takes on average two months of pre-tax salary upon graduation to pay back the entirety of debt from earning a degree at Purdue. More than 99% of Boilermakers pay back their student debt.

But don’t let our affordability fool you into thinking we don’t invest in our campus. Far from it. We’ve hired a large number of new faculty, and provided an average 5% salary raise in each of the past two years. We’ve launched initiatives such as our first urban campusthe Daniels School of Business and Purdue Computes.

And we’ve constructed new physical facilities throughout our campus. Not all the desired facility projects can be funded at the same time. However, across the 23 projects completing, ongoing or starting in 2023, $1.3 billion dollars are being invested. These are functional, not fancy, facilities: no lazy rivers in student dorms, nor glassy atrium at the university airport terminal. About 60% of the funding is from philanthropic and state support for capital projects, with all athletic facility projects completely funded by donation gifts (and indeed the entire athletic budget is self-contained, without any subsidy from the rest of the university budget), and the remaining from savings accumulated from each year’s operating budget surpluses. Each year, our operating budget targets 3% in the black, and for the recently concluded fiscal year it was 5.6%.

Read the rest of the article in Forbes.