Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced that he will become the president of Purdue University when he leaves office in January. While fans of the cost-cutting governor had hoped he would set his eyes on a different president, the announcement should be welcome news to students and taxpayers alike. One of the nation’s most successful, reform-minded executive can now play a role in reinventing higher education.
Few sectors of the economy are in greater need of reform and have such promising solutions lurking just around the corner.
The United States spends approximately $460 billion annually on postsecondary education, or about 3.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. The federal government spends tens of billions annually to support college students and their colleges and universities, while state and local governments kick in another $71 billion. Families and students shoulder the rest of the burden, with many taking our gigantic loans or liquidating their life savings to pay the steep costs of college, in hopes that a degree will unlock a brighter future.
Sadly, a growing body of evidence suggests that much of this investment is a waste. A 2011 report, based on survey data of college students around the country, found that 45 percent of all students show no significant gains in learning after two years in school. Even more discouraging, 33 percent effectively learned nothing after four years. Statistics like this are forcing many American families to question whether four years of tuition and costs, which now top $40,000 and $20,000 at private and public colleges respectively, are worth it.
And those who might think the perhaps the value of having the credential itself somehow justifies these costs, even absent actual learning, keep in mind that reports show that more than half of recent college grads are either unemployed or underemployed (that means in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree). Surely the parents of those twenty-somethings who have moved back in must be wondering why they invested so much money and effort in pursuit of a college diploma for junior, and have a long list of ways they wish they had used that money instead.