Mitch Daniels went from running the state of Indiana, as its two-term Republican governor, to running its top flight public university, Purdue University, based in West Lafayette.

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Since Daniels began his tenure in 2013, Purdue has made plenty of headlines. First, the school partnered with Gallup on an ambitious project touted as "the largest representative study of college graduates in U.S. history." The goal? To find out what graduates really value about their educations. The takeaway: Fancy degrees don't mean much for people's well-being.

Earlier this year, Daniels also dropped a bombshell when he announced Purdue's acquisition of Kaplan University. It was an unprecedented move for a public university to take over a for-profit, online college, especially given the for-profit sector's recent regulatory troubles. Negotiations were conducted in secret, which Daniels said was necessary under federal investment rules.

Why Kaplan? It's part of Purdue's broader innovation agenda to offer students a more affordable, accessible, world-class education, says Daniels, though the deal's critics saw things differently.

NPR sat down with Daniels to talk about how he sees his responsibility toward Indiana's students today and in the future. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

In the 20th century, we grew and opened regional campuses, expanded for veterans who had missed out the first time because they were off saving the world from totalitarianism. And for a place like ours that was important. In the 21st century in this state, which is very typical, there are 750,000 who started college and didn't complete. It's a huge universe of opportunity if we can figure out how to reach them and get them to a credential. The number one objective is to do something about that. We work on it through our community college. We brought [nonprofit, online] Western Governors University to Indiana. It remains a huge opportunity just within this state.

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