HAMMOND | Purdue University President Mitch Daniels visited Northwest Indiana on Wednesday to talk about the challenges Purdue faces, as well as all Hoosier universities.
Daniels, a former Indiana governor, addressed dozens of politicians, educators and business people at the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Dynasty Banquet Center. He also met with The Times' Editorial Board earlier in the day.
"Is higher education delivering what the nation needs?" Daniels asked. "Some employers have said that students come with a diploma in hand but don't have the most basic skills."
Daniels said Purdue is an engineering school and it's a tough school to get into. "If you graduate from Purdue, the world will know you have learned something," he said.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. questioned Daniels about his previous comments regarding Purdue University Calumet in Hammond and Purdue University North Central in Westville.
Daniels explained what he said was the regional network was developed in a haphazard manner with no vision.
"Anyway, they are here now and doing valuable work," he said. "But I can't candy-coat it. We've got to do better. We have to improve the graduation rate. We have to improve the quality of students."
Daniels said higher education wrestles with the issue of student loans, one of the major debts people acquire. He said every university needs to find ways to make going to university more affordable. Purdue trustees approved a tuition freeze at the West Lafayette campus in May for two years. The last year without a tuition increase was 1976.
Daniels said the second most expensive service at Purdue University was food. He said he challenged the food service department to cut its meal plan prices by 5 percent.
As part of the university's goals, Daniels said it plans to make even greater contributions in STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- education; grow the college of engineering by 107 faculty members and 800 undergraduate students; create more hands-on learning experiences such as internships; and grow the computer science department by 30 percent.
Daniels said he'd like to see Purdue move to a year-round school.
Daniels noted more students transferred from the West Lafayette campus to Purdue's regional campuses last year. He said he has heard from many students about problems sometimes getting regional-campus credits accepted at the main campus, something university officials are reviewing.
He said there is good leadership at the Northwest Indiana sites. He acknowledged students at the regional campuses are juggling jobs and families as they go back to school to improve their lives, but he also said he doesn't want that to be an excuse for them not to earn a degree.