Tuition at a 2012 level

H ere’s an interesting item for any parent who recently put their kids through college, or who is wondering how to pay for the rising cost of education in the future: Purdue University has not raised its tuition since 2012.

Purdue, located in Indiana, is a member of the Big 10 conference but may not be too well known in Mississippi. Down here, its biggest claim to fame probably is that it’s the place where former Gov. Kirk Fordice earned an engineering degree.

Its ability to hold the line on costs stands out at a time when, across the country, state support for higher education has been reduced.

Universities in Mississippi and in practically every other state have raised tuition repeatedly, and often by 5 percent or more per year.

Over time, this has greatly increased the cost of a college degree — to the point that more people are asking whether the price is worth it.

That was one of Mitch Daniels’ motivations when he decided to freeze tuition upon becoming Purdue’s president in 2013.

Daniels, a former Indiana governor who also served as President George W. Bush’s budget director, said Purdue admissions officials told him that freezing tuition would send a signal that the school had lost confidence in its product. In other words, a college education should be like a cell phone or a video game: The cost should always go up because the higher price makes people think they’re getting more.

To his credit, Daniels responded that the continually rising price of education was unsustainable. He was right. More importantly for the university, students, parents and alumni responded positively. The results have been so impressive that Purdue’s admissions office now acknowledges that the tuition freeze gives the school an advantage in the competition for students.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported in its Dec. 25 “Good Business Issue” that since the tuition freeze, Purdue’s undergraduate applications and enrollment have hit record levels. Alumni donations are up, as are graduation rates. Purdue has added 75 tenure-track academic positions in engineering, and the number of students earning STEM degrees (in science, technology, engineering and math programs) is up 24 percent.

Purdue and Daniels are experimenting with offers of interest-free financial aid in exchange for a percentage of a student’s future earnings. It’s also trying out a three-year degree in a few liberal arts programs.

The one thing other university administrators should learn from Purdue’s experience is that Daniels did what managers in virtually every other business has done over the past decade: Pay more attention to costs.

When the tuition freeze started, he got the university’s budget down by$8 million.

It is heartening to see a little fiscal sanity in higher education. But it’s sad that no other large schools have followed Purdue’s lead. With student debt at record levels, why not?