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1/7/2019 6:27:00 PM
Mitch Daniels ponders, 'How big' can Purdue get?

Dave Bangert, Journal and Courier Columnist

WEST LAFAYETTE – "How big?"

Purdue President Mitch Daniels wrote those two words, put them in bold type, in the heart of his annual letter to faculty, alumni, students and staff – a tradition he started in January 2013, the week he arrived in West Lafayette, as a way to size up the state of U.S. higher education trends and how Purdue fits into them.

“Yeah, that question: How big?” Daniels said, ahead of sending a letter, expected to go out Monday. “It might be the fundamental thing facing us here at Purdue, right now.”

That shouldn’t be a huge surprise, coming from Daniels these days. Purdue's been surging, starting the 2018-19 school year with a record freshman class of 8,357, which upended all of Purdue’s admissions calculations, and an overall student body of 43,411 that was 4.4 percent greater than last year’s record. Enrollment is up 11.9 percent since 2014. 

Daniels spent much of the fall semester hinting that he and trustees had to decide whether those records were made to be broken again in the 2019-20 school year and beyond.

Daniels writes in his newest annual letter that Purdue’s recent enrollment trends – including fielding more than 53,000 applications for the 2018-19 academic year, another record for the West Lafayette campus – “present the happiest of problems.”

“But are they the basis for forward planning?” Daniels writes in his letter, which paints a cautious, if not grim, picture for higher education, as it faces declining enrollment driven by “the flattening pool of 18-year-olds,” declining international student applications and emerging notions that four-year schools aren’t the surest way to a successful career.

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