During his visit to Purdue Wednesday as part of his annual “Back to School” bus tour, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wove together the university’s recent initiatives with his own vision for education accessibility and affordability.
Duncan praised recent moves by the university and President Mitch Daniels such as instituting competency-based degrees, planning to open a charter school and offering a freeze on tuition.
"It’s not a coincidence that we’re here. We want to shine a spotlight on that," said Duncan. "We want to learn from what [Daniels] is doing. And if we had more universities with this commitment [not only] to containing costs, but also being creative and innovative and challenging the status quo, we think that’s great."
Duncan has made clear the need for universities to become more accessible and transparent, unveiling a duo of federal initiatives to that end in the last week. The first looks to make the application for federal financial aid easier by allowing people more time to fill it out. The second, a database of more than 7,000 U.S. colleges, has made comprehensive data on graduation rates and average salaries easily available online.
Duncan also praised Purdue’s efforts to address problems with recruiting a diverse student body.
"I love that they’re not just taking more students, and that they want more diversity among those students," he said. "That fact that they’re not satisfied with where they are in terms of diversity and want to create that pipeline themselves, that’s real leadership and I really appreciate that."
Still, it’s an area where Purdue struggles. The school has about one black student for every 22 white students, and President Daniels has said one reason Purdue wants to open an Indianapolis charter school is because many black students who apply to Purdue don’t meet the academic criteria the school wants.
Duncan also used time during his hour-long discussion with Daniels to address support for performance-based teacher compensation, increased access to pre-K programs, and the need for more regulation of for-profit colleges.