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Opening Arguments

Belt Tightening 101

A lot of people have been complaining about the crushing weight of college costs, but leave it to a conservative Republican like Mitch Daniels to actually do something about it:

Prior to his arrival in 2012, tuition at Purdue had gone up every year for 36 years, with annual hikes averaging close to 6 percent in the previous decade. Daniels has frozen tuition for three straight years and slashed room and board costs by 10 percent. “Instead of asking our students and their families to accommodate their budgets to our spending,” he says, “let’s see if we can’t adjust our spending to their budgets.” Purdue’s class of 2016 may graduate without ever having seen a tuition hike.

Erica Smith, a recent communications graduate from Michigan City, says that the tuition freeze was long overdue. She financed her education with loans she’ll be repaying for at least 25 years. “I feel hopeless almost,” she says. “But most of my friends have as much debt as I do. We joke about paying it till we die.” Smith says that cost hikes while she was a student added between $4,000 and $6,000 to her overall debt. “If tuition continues to rise, Purdue will be out of reach for middle-class people, like my niece,” whom she hopes will one day follow her to West Lafayette.

Daniels achieved the tuition freeze in part by postponing raises for some administrators, and some faculty members volunteered to forgo raises as well. Information-technology consolidation, bulk purchasing, eliminating off-campus storage, disposing of surplus property, and improving cash management also contributed—all techniques from Daniels’s playbook as governor. The former Indiana governor’s efforts to control costs have attracted national attention.

There is growing talk of a "higher education bubble," which will burst like the housing, stock market and all other bubbles did, when the reality of something's actual worth crashes against what people have paid for it and expected to get out of it. If it takes you 25 years to pay off something that barely gets your foot in the door for the minimum wage, something is seriously wrong.

Man, do I feel lucky. In part because of the GI Bill and in part because of a working wife whose mother furnished a free aparment, I managed to stay completely debt free while getting a college degree. I hate to think what trajectory my life would have taken if the choices I made were guided in part by the necessity to get out from under college debt. Probably wouldn't have been this rich and famous, huh?

The GI Bill, by the way, is an option more kids today should consider. With a minimum of three years of service, they can pretty much get a full four-year ride at a university, and take a higher level of maturity and ability to focus into the classroom.