Inside Innovative Revenue Production at Purdue University

Thoughtware Article Published: Feb 01, 2019
Students walking around a higher education campus

Purdue University is among the schools leading the way in innovative thinking and new solutions. BKD had an opportunity to speak with Dan Hasler, recently appointed executive vice president for communication. We discussed the extensive innovations at Purdue and its related ventures. Dan previously served as president and chief entrepreneurial officer of the Purdue Research Foundation, so his knowledge of these initiatives is extensive. Read on to learn how Purdue is finding success in boosting revenues, as it’s embraced many of the key ideas colleges of all sizes should consider.


Freezing tuition may not sound like an innovative revenue production idea. However, according to a September 2018 Forbes online article about Purdue, since doing so in 2013, applications are up 67 percent and enrollment is at an all-time high, as are alumni donations and graduation rates. A campus census released in early September 2018 shows more than 43,400 students enrolled for the fall semester at Purdue. That’s a 4.4 percent increase from the previous record set in fall 2017. Purdue targeted a fall 2018 enrollment of about 7,800 freshmen, but when classes started in August the school had a record freshman class exceeding 8,300.

In addition to the campuswide effort to increase enrollment, another innovative method to help students pay for their education is gaining momentum—The Back a Boiler™ program. Per the Purdue Research Foundation website:

To date, there are 759 contracts with students enrolled in the Back a Boiler – ISA Fund who have received funding totaling $9.5 million. All Purdue University colleges and over 120 majors are represented in the student participation. The top six colleges represented are: Engineering, Polytechnic Institute, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts, Krannert School of Management and Agriculture.

The Back a Boiler Income Share Agreement (ISA) Fund is a potentially less expensive funding alternative to private and Parent PLUS loans for students who need additional funding to pay for their education. Students receive funding through the program and complete the agreement by paying back a set percentage of their post-education salary over a set number of years.

If you ask President Mitch Daniels, he would tell you these types of agreements are not only helpful to students, but they put more of the responsibility for success back where he would say it belongs—on the school. This unique ISA program has been successfully used for a number of years now, and Purdue Research Foundation has found the program generates a return of slightly more than 5 percent.


The number of startups launched by Purdue researchers also is at an all-time high. Purdue’s efforts to license intellectual property generate approximately 140 licenses per year. They light the fire of ideas from both faculty and students with a program called “Firestarter” to help inventors/founders find the value propositions of their ideas. They foster those ideas with an organized approach to community and help inventors move from concept to production and distribution.

Probably the most noticeable initiatives are the investments being made at Purdue University Discovery Park. Following its clear mission to provide solutions to three grand challenges—global health, global sustainability and global security—Purdue enjoyed a record-breaking year in 2018, generating $454 million in sponsored research, setting the record for a fourth consecutive year. It accomplished this through its 25 centers, institutes and affiliated project centers. This innovative and important initiative serves as Purdue’s hub and open laboratory for interdisciplinary collaboration.

In addition to the initiatives at Purdue's Discovery Park, Dan Hasler also mentions the equity investments they’ve made in nearly 200 start-up companies. Purdue set aside a fund generated from prior equity investment “wins” to incubate future startups. This revenue source also appears poised to gain momentum.


Other sources of income at Purdue include the significant royalty revenue produced by Purdue-branded products, solar power generation, a possible television series called Campus Life and numerous land leases.

Read more about how colleges and universities are innovating to improve financial sustainability by downloading our 2019 Higher Education Outlook.

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