12/15/19 Division I Commencement President Daniels

Purdue President Mitch Daniels leads the crowd in applauding the graduates at the end of the ceremony.

The themes of lowering student debt, increasing underrepresented minority enrollment and strategizing ways to deal with an ever-ballooning student population were central in Purdue President Mitch Daniels' annual open letter Monday.

"Outside the classroom, I am a big fan of plagiarism," Daniels wrote, "and we regularly look elsewhere for good ideas we haven’t thought of, and go 'benchmarking' in hopes of self-improvement.

"But there’s no mistaking that lately we are seeing a 'net in-migration,' that is, a steady flow of people curious about various projects we have inaugurated, or pursued more vigorously than others."

Daniels noted in a chart attached to his letter that the average annual student borrowing per undergraduate has steadily decreased every year since 2011. The average borrowing then was $5,451, compared to this academic year, when average borrowing per undergraduate was $3,558.

He also pointed out that the percent of Purdue West Lafayette students graduating debt-free has increased over 10% since 2011, opposite the national trend.

Daniels also said many more underrepresented minorities — those not identifying as white or Asian — have enrolled since 2013. According to a chart from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Purdue Data Digest, the average percent change in enrollment of underrepresented minorities nationally between 2013 and 2017 was 0.77%, compared to Purdue's 21.46%.

The president highlighted the laurels of the Purdue Polytechnic High Schools now scattered around the state as examples of schools meant to bring those target populations to Purdue. 

Purdue's increasing overall student population was again a topic of discussion for Daniels, who wrote that the Board of Trustees' general direction is "to continue our growth beyond the consecutive records we have been setting in each recent year."

"Record enrollment, coupled with a continuing trend in the direction of STEM majors has put tremendous pressure on our classroom, lab and other academic facilities," Daniels wrote. "We have made great strides in utilizing our existing capacity. Alums will be interested to know that evening classes and Saturday labs are back in vogue! But still we are bumping into physical limits."

Daniels said the University is attempting to keep up with the influx of students with ongoing construction of the campus's STEM lab building, the Gateway complex for the College of Engineering and Polytechnic Institute and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital as well as with plans for a new data science building.

Daniels also spent some time addressing the NCAA's decision to examine the possibility of paying student-athletes, which he said he doesn't completely agree with.

"Purdue doesn’t have a more devoted fan than I am," he wrote, "but in my view our policy of athletics paying its own way must remain inviolate. As much as athletics contributes to the sense of community and just plain fun on our campus, it would not be right to impose fees on the 98%-plus of our students who cannot play for a Purdue team, or on those whose interests do not encompass sports at all."

Daniels said he understands the "sense of justice" underlying the view that student-athletes should be paid on top of full-ride scholarships and the additional lifetime earnings that come with a college degree, but doesn't see simple solutions to the problem.

"I don’t find it difficult to understand the sense of justice that underlies that viewpoint. What I do find very difficult, if not impossible, is understanding how to abandon the amateur model and start paying, or allowing third parties to pay, student athletes without creating abuses and problems far worse than the one people want to see solved."

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