From the Vice Provost

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So Long But Not Goodbye

Well, this is it. At the end of June I’ll turn the lights off in my Purdue office for the last time and retire to my home in northern Michigan. And while it will be the close of my chapter at Purdue, I don’t expect to completely walk away from education and my advocacy for college preparation, access and completion.

The idea of retirement is an odd sensation. I find myself speaking with Purdue colleagues about the 2018 enrolling class and often need to correct myself … “We can. Uh, I mean you should ...” But I have an amazing team at Purdue and the search for my successor is nearing completion. I know they won’t miss a beat during the upcoming transition.

Last month, during our annual high school Counselor Advisory Board (CAB) meeting, we had a heartfelt discussion about how far Purdue has come over the past 10 years and the work that still needs to be done. It was gratifying to hear their perspectives, phrases like “institutional commitment with strengthening retention and graduation rates,” “magic sauce,” “stage is set for good things to happen here and they’re happening.”

They also said that although families are not always happy about Purdue’s limited merit aid, our commitment to multiple years of frozen tuition and other cost-saving strategies has resonance.  And there is clear evidence of the rigor and value of a Purdue education, as well as its high rate of return. 

During the CAB meeting, we were especially pleased to hear that the messages of the Gallup-Purdue Index were helpful to counselors, specifically that how one goes to college and engages in the experience is more important than a name on a bumper sticker.  We have been well-advised to continue personal touch efforts with both students and counselors and were reminded we can have a stellar reputation without being perceived as elitist.

We also had a deep conversation about racist incidents in our high schools and on college campuses (sadly including a recent one at Purdue) and how our country’s polarized political climate has caused an uptick in hateful speech, even in educational settings. We discussed how challenging it is to have the difficult conversations about race and other differences, but how as educators we have an obligation to do so and facilitate such among students and our colleagues. We also know that although there has been much progress in access to higher education, we have a long way to go in closing the gaps in degree achievement. 

So, yes, there is always more work to do, but over my 11-year career at Purdue, we have moved the needle on many fronts.

  • We’ve staved off the urge to distribute merit scholarships like candy at a parade and instead have focused on using institutional aid to support our land-grant mission. The “Pledge” article in this newsletter details our prioritization on low- and middle-income Indiana residents. For non-residents, we’re packaging need-based aid only on students with demonstrated need who also have been identified as particularly meritorious – to provide comprehensive packages that help make Purdue a financial fit for them.  We don’t have the resources to make a Purdue education accessible to every out-of-state and international student, but we are fair and honest in how we convey that to them during their college search – from our net price calculator to financial aid packaging and frank conversations about financial fit.
  • By freezing tuition and significantly reducing our graduates’ overall loan burden, we’re serving our students and their families while demonstrating to higher education peers that there are successful alternatives to annual tuition increases.
  • We invested in extensive research to better understand why students leave Purdue or what stands in their path toward timely completion. The result has been data-informed initiatives that have our retention and graduation rates on an unprecedented upward trajectory. We have also used the data to inform prospective students and state policy makers about the importance of rigorous academic preparation for college success.
  • In everything we do, our motto is transparency. I firmly believe these efforts have contributed to families and students being more informed about higher education – from being better prepared academically and financially to recognizing that earning a college degree is an investment of time, talent and resources on the part of both the student and the institution.  A college degree is not a commodity to be purchased.
  • We’ve recognized we can’t make progress on all of these issues without partnering across professional groups and educational sectors. I’m particularly proud of the teamwork among financial aid, admissions, registrar, communication and our analysis groups at Purdue.  We’ve worked with Indiana University, Ivy Tech and other Indiana institutions on state educational issues. We’ve partnered with our Big Ten and American Association of Universities colleagues to share and learn best practices. We have actively engaged with NACAC, NASFA, AARCAO, the College Board and ACT to not only network, but also make positive change in our professions and for the greater good.
  • And back to you. We’re proud of our strong relationships with school counselors and other K-12 educators across Indiana and elsewhere. Through our advisory board, fly- and drive-in counselor meetings and visiting your schools, we’ve worked with you to not only de-mystify the college admission and financial aid processes for students and their families, but also to encourage strong academic preparation for college and to view higher education as the best investment for not only the individual but also a better society, country and world.

Looking back on my career, I can’t imagine a path that would have been more fulfilling. We don’t choose this work for financial gain or in pursuit of power. Our reward is a life of meaning – we are enriched by paying it forward. I have been so honored to know and work with so many of you personally and to have shared in these good works with all of you.  

This may be the last “Message from the Vice Provost” you receive from me, but I don’t plan to settle into a rocking chair. Beyond enjoying more time with my family (including a new grandson!) and the beauty and bounty of the Great Lakes, the outline for my next chapter is still in the draft stage. I’m pretty sure education hasn’t seen the last of me.

Pamela T. Horne

Pam Horne
Vice Provost for Enrollment Management

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