sealPurdue News

September 13, 2002

Education: Investment with guaranteed returns

Martin C. Jischke
President, Purdue University

Two hundred years ago – just 10 years after our nation's Bill of Rights was enacted – a child who would change the state of Indiana was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania. His father worked several jobs to feed his nine children, but was primarily a charcoal burner at an iron smelter. The boy grew to be a successful businessman. And he embraced a vision.

John Purdue, born Oct. 31, 1802, used the personal fortune he accumulated to found a university known today all around the world. Not bad for a kid from the backwoods.

Forward-thinking men such as John Purdue, though, not only were great philanthropists, they changed the very nature of our nation. They took that Bill of Rights and added another: the right to an education.

At a time when such education was constrained by class and economic level in most countries, America threw open the doors to learning to everyone. It invested in education, and we lead the world today because of it.

The poet James Russell Lowell said, "It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled."

Indiana took that step in 1851 when it revised its state constitution to provide free universal primary education. A short time later, in 1862, Congress extended the investment to higher education with the Morrill Act, which established the nation's land-grant system of some 100 colleges and universities dedicated to practical education.

In fact, the concept itself is very practical. With education, we improve the opportunities for the individual, create new knowledge and invent new technologies. But there's more. Education solves problems. It creates jobs, reduces crime, improves health and increases not only incomes but the governmental revenues that depend on those incomes.

In the long term, education is not only self-supporting, but also an enterprise that nets a profit – in human as well as economic terms – for a society.

Realizing the rewards from its investment, government continued to invest. Sixty years ago, while the fate of the free world was still being decided on the battlefields of Europe and in the Pacific, we took an equally bold step with the GI Bill of Rights. It offered to pay for a college education for every single military veteran. This was a revolutionary idea. Yet it passed both houses of Congress without dissent.

As a result, about 2 million veterans, many of whom had never dreamed of going to college, found themselves on the nation's campuses. They changed the world while they were transforming their own lives beyond their wildest dreams. And – as educated people almost always do – they made sure their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had the same opportunity.

Few investments in history have yielded greater returns than the land-grant act and GI Bill.

Just as our forefathers stepped forward, now it's time for us to step forward with bold and decisive action. Purdue and its alumni and friends are answering this call, teaming up to carry the light of learning and take the opportunities of education to the next level.

Just as John Purdue and the state of Indiana teamed up to start this great university, we will join the forces of public and private support once again this month by launching the largest fund-raising drive in Purdue's history. We will ask the people who are closest to Purdue and who have benefited from its programs to create opportunities for new generations of students.

No, private support cannot replace the state's commitment to our public universities. We still need and appreciate the state's investment. Our goal, though, is to leverage the state's investment so together we can build a better future.

Even in today's uncertain economic times, there is one investment with a guaranteed return: Education.