Northeastern making its voice heard in Washington

As Con­gress begins to reau­tho­rize the land­mark 1965 Higher Edu­ca­tion Act, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity leaders—led by Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun—are playing an active role in Wash­ington to shape the nation’s public policy agenda.

In Sep­tember, North­eastern unveiled the find­ings of its latest national opinion poll of employers and the gen­eral public that details atti­tudes toward the future of higher edu­ca­tion on issues such as out­comes, work­force pre­pared­ness, and online learning. The poll findings—combined with a series of thought lead­er­ship events—are part of a mul­ti­year effort by the uni­ver­sity to drive the national con­ver­sa­tion on the future of higher education.

In August, Aoun sent a detailed letter to con­gres­sional leaders with pri­mary respon­si­bility for higher edu­ca­tion policy. Aoun’s letter out­lines a range of ideas and ini­tia­tives designed to strengthen Amer­ican higher edu­ca­tion in the years to come.

“As you pre­pare to reau­tho­rize the Higher Edu­ca­tion Act, I encourage you to take stock of the many changes occur­ring in higher edu­ca­tion today, and pro­mote poli­cies that acknowl­edge these impor­tant shifts,” Aoun wrote. A sig­nif­i­cant number of Aoun’s policy pre­scrip­tions focused on the value of co-​​op and expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion as pow­erful and highly rel­e­vant learning models.

Aoun, a former chair of the Washington-​​based Amer­ican Council on Edu­ca­tion, pledged Northeastern’s sup­port in efforts to strengthen and expand the expe­ri­en­tial model. He also touched on the impor­tant issue of col­lege costs.

“It is vital that Con­gress reaf­firm the his­toric part­ner­ship between stu­dents, insti­tu­tions, and the gov­ern­ment that has helped fuel the nation’s eco­nomic growth by main­taining the fed­eral invest­ment in stu­dent finan­cial aid,” he added.

For its part, North­eastern is pro­viding an unprece­dented $204 mil­lion in insti­tu­tional grant aid in 2013–14, the largest finan­cial aid invest­ment in the university’s 115-​​year history.

In November, North­eastern hosted a con­gres­sional staff briefing on Capitol Hill to present its Sep­tember poll find­ings, after which a panel of policy experts dis­cussed the impli­ca­tions for reform with regard to the upcoming reau­tho­riza­tion of the Higher Edu­ca­tion Act.

The pan­elists hailed the poll data as a strong indi­cator higher edu­ca­tion needs. Andrew Kelly, director of the Center on Higher Edu­ca­tion Reform, noted there is a mis­match of what col­leges are offering and what stu­dents are demanding. He said if col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties don’t fill this gap, new providers will step in. For his part, David Berg­eron, vice pres­i­dent for post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion at the Center for Amer­ican Progress, noted the impor­tance of long-​​term intern­ships and expe­ri­en­tial learning, saying that more must be done to con­nect low-​​income and first-​​generation col­lege stu­dents with these opportunities.