Northeastern convenes financial aid meeting in Washington

Photo credit: Brendan Hoffman

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun convened a group of university presidents and federal education officials on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to discuss current proposals to preserve the valuable Perkins Loan program.

At the open forum, held at the U.S. Department of Education, President Aoun and the group of presidents and officials sat down with Department of Education Undersecretary Dr. Martha Kanter to discuss the program, which is slated for elimination in 2014.

“We’re here to have a dialogue on the important issue of college affordability,” said President Aoun, who met with Department of Education officials in December to begin a discussion of the Perkins program. “Our goal today is to discuss this issue and develop some principles for moving forward.”

Kanter, who thanked President Aoun for convening the packed event, said, “We’ve got to secure the Perkins Loan Program for the hundreds of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students who depend on it.”

Kanter said that Tuesday’s meeting must be part of a larger conversation about student loans and student debt. She also noted President Obama’s goal to make America the world leader in college attainment — increasing the number of high school students moving on to college from the current 39 percent to 60 percent by 2020 — and that financial aid is a critical piece of the puzzle.

The event included comments from seven other university presidents, ranging from the leaders of large institutions such as the University of South Florida to smaller schools such as Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. In addition to Kanter, several other senior Department of Education officials spoke, including assistant secretary David Bergeron, who explained the political and fiscal challenges associated with continuing the Perkins Loan program.

“We’ve heard that we need to keep the Perkins program going, keep it simple and keep it flexible,” said Aoun, as he wrapped up the meeting. “The work begins for us today. We will follow up and continue to advocate for our students and their families.”

Tuesday’s event follows a letter sent in February 2011 by President Aoun and 33 other university presidents to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in which they called for a commitment to continue and strengthen the program.

The letter lauded 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 noted the higher education community’s strong commitment to the Perkins program, even in the absence of new federal capital contributions since 2004.

President Aoun has taken a leadership role in addressing other issues critical to higher education on a national stage.

In April 2010, President Aoun coordinated 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 cooperative education — 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 curricula.