Bloomberg Businessweek

Intro to Mitchonomics

The former governor of Indiana is taking his budget zeal to the business of higher ed
Purdue University President Mitch Daniels

On a balmy Friday evening in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue University President Mitch Daniels arrives at the school’s Ross-Ade Stadium in a 2006 Toyota Avalon.

He’s wearing cargo pants, sneakers, a white Purdue golf shirt, and a black baseball hat emblazoned with DEGREE IN 3, a plug for the university’s new plan to let students shave a year off undergrad. It’s an hour before the Boilermakers’ first home football game, and the 68-year-old former two-term Indiana governor strides toward a concession stand.

“Mitch!” says a man standing at a high-top table. Everyone at Purdue—students, parents, faculty, administrators, alumni, guys at high-top tables he’s never met—calls Daniels by his first name. The man praises him for freezing tuition through 2019. Daniels responds that current Purdue students will be among the first in more than 30 years to graduate without an increase. “That’s good, because we’re paying for two!” the man says.

Soon there’s a crowd: a middle-aged alum sporting a Purdue jacket and a handlebar mustache, who says he’s back on campus for the first time in decades; two recent female grads with P’s stenciled on their cheeks; a man who says his wife, a Democrat, wrote Daniels in for president in 2016. He poses for two dozen selfies before taking a lap around the field, greeting the opposing team’s cheerleaders, chatting with Purdue’s baton-twirling squad, fist-bumping shirtless students covered in black and gold paint, and, finally, making his way to a suite above the 50-yard line. “It’s been a tough few years for some of these fans,” he says, referring to the team’s run of losing seasons. “I needed to thank them for coming out.”

Under Daniels, things have been generally cheery at Purdue. With return on investment increasingly important to students, given the price of attending and the corresponding debt, Purdue has something to sell: static costs and a good job if you graduate, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

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