Cool: Mitch Daniels teams with Amazon to bring down textbook costs for Purdue students

posted at 9:21 pm on August 18, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

After having passed on the possibility of running for President of the United States, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is entering his second year as president of Purdue University in Indiana. Though the former governor has his eggheaded bona fides—a Princeton grad and former Director of OMB—many thought it was an odd match to have the famously conservative (especially fiscally) governor at the helm of a university. The move sparked a few protests from former students and wariness from faculty, many of whom were colorful with their predictions of doom.

Heading into the 2014 school year, Purdue students are enjoying the first tuition freeze in 36 years, a 10-percent drop in their dining hall prices, and now the possibility of a bunch of text book savings. If you have recently been in college or have kids who are, you know the serious chunk rising text book costs can take out of one’s income.

“It just frosts me,” Daniels said. “There had to be a better way.”

As he did when he gambled that three years of tuition freezes could be done with the existing budget — all in the name of student affordability — Daniels found what he thinks is a better way. West Lafayette book store owners took exception to claims that Amazon can deliver the 30 percent savings Purdue predicts, saying Daniels is getting a bigger splash than he is a big bargain.

But in that standoff, Daniels can count on little sympathy for the existing retail textbook system from students who already have been scouting secondary markets to beat an annual load that Purdue estimated climbed from $890 a year in 2002-03 to $1,370 in 2012-13. (That increase of 54 percent was better, believe it or not, than the national average increase of 82 percent during the same time, according to the Government Accountability Office.)

Daniels is engaging in an experimental partnership with Amazon, figuring the giant bookseller can offer students better prices and inject much-needed competition in the campus bookselling market, which has been pretty insular until now. This is from the Purdue press release, not a news source, but it just explains the basics:

Purdue and Amazon have launched the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, a new, co-branded experience where students can purchase lower-cost textbooks and other college essentials.

And for the first time ever, Amazon also will bring staffed customer order pickup and drop-off locations to Purdue’s campus, as well as expedited shipping benefits phased in over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year.

The Purdue Student Store on Amazon, found at purdue.amazon.com, launched Tuesday (Aug. 12). The first campus pickup location is expected to be open in early 2015.

The Chicago Tribune wrote glowingly about Daniels’ efforts recently. His hallmark fat-cutting is in full effect:

In 19 months as president of Purdue University, the former Indiana governor has frozen base tuition after 36 straight years of increases. The freeze lasts at least through the 2015-16 academic year.

Along the way, Daniels cut the cost of student dining services food by 10 percent. He’s saved big money by streamlining purchasing and finding other economies of scale. No saving is too small: He sold 10 school cars (about $10,000 each), cut rental storage in half ($160,000 saved) and repurposed used office furniture instead of buying new ($28,000 saved). “This place was not built to be efficient,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But “you’re not going to find many places where you just take a cleaver and hack off a big piece of fat. Just like a cow, it’s marbled through the whole enterprise.”

When Daniels arrived on campus 19 months ago, we said his tenure would test the business-as-usual, soak-the-middle-class-with-rising-tuition ethos that passes for leadership at most American universities. For openers, Daniels’ pay is based on performance. He is judged on whether he makes Purdue more affordable for students, hikes graduation rates and, of course, excels at the key mission of a university president: fundraising.

The university also won a $500,000 award this year for creating a 3-year bachelors degree program that could save undergrads about $10K.

Purdue University will offer some of its students a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years.

University President Mitch Daniels announced Monday that the school won a $500,000 incentive award for developing a program that will allow communications students to complete the same courses as their peers within 36 months.

“This is another way to make college more affordable,” Daniels said. “Purdue needs to think innovatively to help young people get the full value out of their education experience.”

The program requires communication students to take a heavier course load for four semesters, and to take courses during two summers.

Students will save $9,290, roughly the cost of one year of in-state tuition, said Marifran Mattson, professor and head of Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication.

Mitch Daniels is doing the work tackling a giant national problem on a small scale. It’s not sexy. It doesn’t come with nearly the national headlines that his former profession brought. It likely requires hanging out with not a small number of people who detest his ideology and his career before he got to Purdue. And yet, he’s trying new things and making college more affordable for students. He’s picking the right targets, creating support for his moves, cutting where necessary, and most importantly, showing results in a way that matters to students. Not every experiment will work perfectly, but colleges have got to start trying something other than begging for easier credit to compensate for their inability to save and prioritize. If Daniels is able to forge a new path at Purdue without sacrificing respect or quality, maybe others will try, too. In doing so, he’ll have done a hell of a lot more for college affordability than any number of national politicians who talk about it all the time.

When asked by the Tribune if he worried about losing students to other colleges in the amenities race, Daniels replied:

“It could be that we’ll still lose students to someone with a higher climbing wall, but we are prepared to take that chance.”

Take heed, other college presidents. This is what an academic looks like.

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I really, really hoped he would run for POTUS. Daniels was usually being demonized by so many here over much-misunderstood talk of a VAT tax. The guy has always been a financial wiz as well, even during his stint as governor.

JetBoy on August 18, 2014 at 9:25 PM

“It could be that we’ll still lose students to someone with a higher climbing wall, but we are prepared to take that chance.”

Love that. Really love it.

Higher education should be for learning, not to emulate the best country club living most students will ever enjoy in their entire lives. Costs have just exploded and need to be reigned in.

xNavigator on August 18, 2014 at 9:26 PM

Did his wife say it was o.k.? :)

ThePrez on August 18, 2014 at 9:28 PM

Did his wife say it was o.k.? :)

ThePrez on August 18, 2014 at 9:28 PM

The wife was always OK. We learned sometime earlier that John Huntsman blackmailed Mitch out of 2012.

nobar on August 18, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Nice quick html fix :P

mythicknight on August 18, 2014 at 9:31 PM

The wife was always OK. We learned sometime earlier that John Huntsman blackmailed Mitch out of 2012.

nobar on August 18, 2014 at 9:30 PM

It’s Wu Tang Huntsman.

arnold ziffel on August 18, 2014 at 9:40 PM

Just wanted to say I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana; my parents and brother still live there, along with many other relatives scattered around Indiana; and I went to Purdue. :)

Don’t have much useful to add except good for you, Mitch Daniels!

Andy in Colorado on August 18, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Up here in Maine, the University of Maine System could easily save hundreds of thousands a year by NOT contracting with the Teamsters for public works duties. Putting those contracts out to bid and subsidizing it with student work-study could bring significant savings at every single campus.

It also seems to me that the entire textbook industry is ripe for an anti-trust and/or RICCO suit. Even back in the dark ages when I went to college, it was infuriating that I was restricted to buying new copies of textbooks through the school bookstore. The professors almost always rigged the process in order to pad their income by making subtle revisions each year and then demanding that you have the “new” version of their textbook in class.

It’s all wildly out of kilter and some wholesale changes need to be made to college and university costs.

TKindred on August 18, 2014 at 9:45 PM

It’s Wu Tang Huntsman.

arnold ziffel on August 18, 2014 at 9:40 PM

Surely, you are mistaken, as his real name is Biff Huntsman.

nobar on August 18, 2014 at 9:47 PM

This is utterly stupendous! Hallelujah! I could be hit by lightning tomorrow and die a happy man.

VorDaj on August 18, 2014 at 9:50 PM

It’s not sexy.

Au contraire, it is very sexy.

John the Libertarian on August 18, 2014 at 9:51 PM

Just wanted to say I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana; my parents and brother still live there, along with many other relatives scattered around Indiana; and I went to Purdue. :)

Don’t have much useful to add except good for you, Mitch Daniels!

Andy in Colorado on August 18, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Cool!! I was born in Lafayette at Home Hospital and grew up in Delphi.

Wish the Boilers could field a football team these days. Egad.

Bitter Clinger on August 18, 2014 at 9:51 PM

Surely, you are mistaken, as his real name is Biff Huntsman.

nobar on August 18, 2014 at 9:47 PM

lol, we certainly had a lot of fun here on HA when semi-precious was considering a run for president. I still crack up thinking of his various names.

arnold ziffel on August 18, 2014 at 9:56 PM

THE OBAMA MOB wants FREE BOOKS, and FREE EDUCATION !!!!

It ALL should be free.

Gas, car, house, food, clothes, edumahkation at Harvard or stuff.

And freaking gift cards. Daniels that Governor is just a rich old white guy that’s got his.

He not down with the shruggle.

MOB, MOB, We’re the OBAMA MOB.

WE WANT’S IT ALL FOR FREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

PappyD61 on August 18, 2014 at 9:56 PM

Heading into the 2014 school year, Purdue students are enjoying the first tuition freeze in 36 years

Thank you, President Carter…thank you very much… >:-(

Newtie and the Beauty on August 18, 2014 at 10:10 PM

I was born in Lafayette as well, on Ferry Street; way back in the dark ages. Dad was doing his PhD at Purdue.

Dolce Far Niente on August 18, 2014 at 10:13 PM

They should all have 3-year degrees. Most kids do not even graduate within six years.

After my stint in higher ed, I came to the conclusion that the general ed requirements were the only true profit center, so they grew every year. If those kids were not forced to take those liberal arts classes, they wouldn’t. And those professors, like the ones in the outrage disciplines, would not have jobs, not to mention the chance to indoctrinate the kids.

PattyJ on August 18, 2014 at 10:25 PM

This is great news. I like to see financial conservatives make inroads where the going perception is that it can’t be done. It’s nice to see someone get ahead on ability rather than cronyism.

Cindy Munford on August 18, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Losing students? Not likely. The stats speak for themselves. I just dropped of my daughter there for her student orientation. They had over 40,000 applicants and accepted 6,000. The resulting average GPA was 3.72. Go Boilers!

indianaconservative on August 18, 2014 at 11:02 PM

BSIE, class of 1978, Go Boilermakers!!!!

karenhasfreedom on August 18, 2014 at 11:56 PM

Daniels would have beaten Romney in 2012.

jayhawkboilermaker on August 19, 2014 at 2:33 AM

This is what senior executive success looks like. Success is not due to speeches or other splashy public overtures. It comes through long hours and often with handwringing debate over policy, purpose and methodology. Any executive knows that the best he/she can ususally obtain is to have 40% on board, 40% actively resisting and 20% willing to be convinced. There’s an old mantra about “getting to 70%” where you create organization inertia for change.

This is not sexy work. But it’s the real emphasis for change. I wish it got a better hearing than it does, but it is hard to dramatize. It doesn’t make for good theater but it is how things really get done in the real world.

Huzzah! Huzzah, I say! And… go Boilermakers…. (Class of 95)

Bigurn on August 19, 2014 at 4:27 AM

Dolce Far Niente on August 18, 2014 at 10:13 PM

Go ND crush the second best University in Indiana. Irish #1

celtic warrior on August 19, 2014 at 6:54 AM

I still wonder why the Federal Govt needs its fingers into subsidizing Higher Ed. Bcs that is what has caused prices in it to spiral out of control.
BTW I have noticed with my own kids in college that they have been able to pay much less than I did for books when I was going to UWYO in the mid to late 90s.
Bcs they have the internet & I did not.
They rent textbooks now & many students still share & sell to each other.
I will always remember buying the text for my hydrogeology class for $130, finding out on day one the guy had no intention of ever using it bcs all we did was differential equations of his own. And I sold it back for $65.
I never bought a text again without going to class to see if I needed it. Always bought the previous edition & never had a care after that.
The professors I had at UWYO, both Frosts, Shive, Snoke,Heller, etc. never used the books.
Everything came from their heads.
Now that I’m a science teacher now for 13 years I have been weaning students off of relying upon a text book for their answers.
Everything comes from my head as well and even though I’ve got the problem of students trying to Google their HW answers (which does not work when you make up your own work based upon your lectures), I am finding students are much better off to use texts as REFERENCES.
I guess I got lucky in the three colleges I went to in three states bcs the only text I ever had to really use were for my math classes.

Badger40 on August 19, 2014 at 8:26 AM

PattyJ on August 18, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Some degree programs do in fact need four years – hard sciences, engineering classes and math. Maybe – maybe – some business stuff. Some degrees can easily be done with less – communications, which they have done, psychology, sociology, education, etc. And then there are some which could just be eliminated completely – most “studies” programs.

Zomcon JEM on August 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM

BSIM Class of ’89 – Boiler up, Mitch! – Hoping the gridiron squad is more competitive this year.

fortcoins on August 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Go ND crush the second best University in Indiana. Irish #1

celtic warrior on August 19, 2014 at 6:54 AM

Yeah, #1 in academic fraud…

SoCalBoiler on August 19, 2014 at 11:09 AM

Nicely done, President Daniels. And thanks for reporting this story, MKH. It’s not a small matter. Hope other universities follow his lead.

NebCon on August 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Proud Purdue University, West Lafayette grad here — BSIE 1988.

Good job, Mitch!

Now maybe I won’t get so many letters asking for donations…what say you PU?

stick on August 19, 2014 at 12:08 PM

This year is not the first. Tuition freeze was announced last year. Note the article says “The freeze lasts at least through the 2015-16 academic year”, so a three year freeze would be last year (2013-2014), this year (2014-2015), and next year (2015-2016.)

As to reducing textbook costs, we’ve been offering alternatives for some time (i.e., e-books, rentals) and we had a program that produced a three-year degree path at least two years ago. What did our administration do? Closed that program!

Book publishers see the handwriting on the wall. This is why they are all providing electronic options for online learning, testing, labs, etc. for a cost, of course. There are plusses and minuses. But I expect they will continue to pursue this for increased revenue and reduce or eliminate costs for “textbooks” per se.

As to overall cost increases, a 10-year study at Purdue showed increases in tuition costs rising dramatically and in conjunction with a parallel increase in administrative costs, while faculty costs (of all types) remained relatively flat. Increased healthcare costs and several years of no raises have caused a regression in relative earnings. Of course, things are not consistent across all Purdue campuses.

Btw, I know of the above b/c I am on faculty at Purdue.

IrishEyes on August 19, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Even back in the dark ages when I went to college, it was infuriating that I was restricted to buying new copies of textbooks through the school bookstore. The professors almost always rigged the process in order to pad their income by making subtle revisions each year and then demanding that you have the “new” version of their textbook in class.

It’s all wildly out of kilter and some wholesale changes need to be made to college and university costs.

TKindred on August 18, 2014 at 9:45 PM

I’m still wondering why we needed new physics or math textbooks. It’s not like Issac Newton had updated his Calculus or his Laws of Motion.

But our Professors Teachers’ Assistants might have updated their boats or apartments…

ReggieA on August 19, 2014 at 3:01 PM