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President Aoun leadspush for federal student loan program

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun is leading a coalition of higher education leaders throughout the country to urge the Obama administration to preserve the Perkins student loan program, which benefits more than 500,000 low-income college students each year.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Aoun and 32 presidents and chancellors from other institutions, along with the American Association of University Professors, call for a commitment to continuing and strengthening the program, which faces an uncertain future. According to a recent statement by the Department of Education, the Perkins loans would continue only through 2014.

The group emphasized the importance of maintaining the program in the long term, and expressed a willingness to collaborate with the department to ensure that the neediest of students reach their dreams of attending college.

“While we greatly appreciate the department’s recent announcement that the Perkins Loan program will now be authorized through 2014, we remain concerned about the long-term viability of the program,” the letter reads. “Ending this program would be directly at odds with President Obama’s ambitious goal for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. To achieve this goal, it is essential that students have maximum access to low-cost college financing options, including Perkins loans. We are deeply concerned that if the program is eliminated in 2014, fewer students will attend college, more will drop out, and the level of high-interest debt will increase for many more students.”

The letter lauds the success of the Perkins program, which provides more than $1 billion a year in need-based aid to students enrolled in nearly 1,800 participating colleges and universities. It also notes the higher education community’s strong commitment to the Perkins program, even in the absence of new federal capital contributions since 2004.

In their letter, President Aoun and the group acknowledged the efforts of Congress and the Obama administration last year to reinvigorate the program as part of a larger student loan reform bill. But it was ultimately dropped from the legislation.

“[We] look forward to working with you to preserve the benefits of the Perkins loan program and help America emerge, once again, as the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” the letter reads.

This campaign continues President Aoun’s leadership in addressing critical higher education issues on the national stage. Last April, he led a group of college presidents in urging caution amid the U.S. Department of Labor’s plan to regulate unpaid internships. In his letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis — signed by 13 college presidents — he argued for protecting the value of experiential learning. As the president of Northeastern — a world leader in experiential learning and co-op — he lauded the demand for this powerful way of learning as a growing number of colleges and universities are expanding and integrating internships into their curriculum.

Click here to read The Boston Globe’s coverageof President Aoun’s efforts to protect low-interest loans