Aoun pushes higher-education priorities in Washington

This week, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun vis­ited Wash­ington for a series of high-​​level meet­ings on Capitol Hill and to chair the Amer­ican Council on Education’s annual meeting to dis­cuss a range of higher-​​education priorities.

Aoun met sep­a­rately on Tuesday with U.S. Sens. Eliz­a­beth Warren—a member of the Senate Com­mittee on Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pensions—and Mo Cowan, a 1994 grad­uate of Northeastern’s School of Law. In his meet­ings with the new mem­bers of Mass­a­chu­setts’ con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, Aoun high­lighted a broad spec­trum of higher-​​education topics. Among them were the impor­tance of inno­va­tion in higher edu­ca­tion and finding ways to expand fed­eral funding aimed at work-​​study pro­grams to also include stu­dents working on co-​​op—the sig­na­ture pro­gram in Northeastern’s experiential-​​education model.

On Monday, Aoun met with U.S. Rep. John Kline of Min­nesota, chair of the House Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force Com­mittee. In their meeting, Aoun dis­cussed fed­eral reg­u­la­tion of higher edu­ca­tion and stressed the need for Washington’s sup­port of pro­grams that increase student-​​aid funding and incen­tivize inno­va­tion in higher edu­ca­tion. They also dis­cussed the upcoming hear­ings and expected vote next year to reau­tho­rize the Higher Edu­ca­tion Act, which sets the policy in areas such as strength­ening col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties’ edu­ca­tional resources and pro­viding finan­cial aid to students.

President Joseph E. Aoun (right) meets with U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The meet­ings come only days after sequestration—a series of auto­matic, across-​​the-​​board cuts to gov­ern­ment agen­cies totaling an esti­mated $1.2 tril­lion over 10 years—went into effect. While the full scope of the sequester’s poten­tial impact in areas such as research funding and finan­cial aid pro­grams remains unclear, Northeastern’s prepa­ra­tions for this fiscal reality have been underway for months.

“Accel­er­ating our research enter­prise is a top pri­ority for the insti­tu­tion and our research efforts will con­tinue even as the funding land­scape becomes more chal­lenging,” Mel Bern­stein, senior vice provost for research and grad­uate edu­ca­tion, wrote in a memo last week to North­eastern fac­ulty and staff. Bern­stein added that the cuts will not affect the Pell Grant pro­gram, nor will it impact the stu­dents’ finan­cial aid for now, but that plan­ning is underway to offset any future change.

In Wash­ington, Aoun also chaired the Amer­ican Council on Education’s annual meeting, where he con­cluded his one-​​year term as chair of the ACE board of direc­tors. As board chair, Aoun con­tinued his advo­cacy for the strength and diver­sity of the Amer­ican system of higher edu­ca­tion, which he has said must con­tinue to inno­vate to com­pete glob­ally and meet the chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury. Aoun will remain an active member on the ACE exec­u­tive committee.

Northeastern’s pres­i­dent has long taken a lead­er­ship role in addressing issues crit­ical to higher edu­ca­tion on a national stage. Last year, Aoun was named to a new aca­d­emic advi­sory council reporting directly to Home­land Secu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano that exam­ines how uni­ver­si­ties can con­tribute to America’s national secu­rity efforts. He has also coor­di­nated efforts with other col­lege pres­i­dents to sup­port crit­ical research funding in the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity budget, to pre­serve fed­eral finan­cial aid funding for stu­dents, and to urge cau­tion on reg­u­la­tion of unpaid intern­ships at the fed­eral level.