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Aoun highlights strategic ‘bets’ in State of the University address

In his annual State of the University Town Hall meeting, President Joseph E. Aoun yesterday outlined the strategy behind Northeastern’s current, unprecedented successes in education and research. President Aoun contrasted Northeastern’s approach over the past five years with many other institutions that scaled back their ambitions during the recession.

“While others were rethinking their educational model, we invested in ours,” said Aoun, referring to Northeastern’s experiential approach to learning, anchored by co-op. “While others reduced research funding, we doubled ours. We made strategic bets and those bets are paying off.”

Speaking to an audience of more than 300 people in the Curry Center Ballroom, and hundreds more viewing the event online, Aoun cited the globalization of co-op, strong success in faculty recruitment and record fundraising results, among other achievements.

View the full video of the State of the University address here.

This year’s freshman class represents a large increase in mean SAT score (currently 1341) and includes more merit scholars and students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class than ever before. In addition, students in the new class hail from 82 countries.

On the topical issue of college costs, Aoun said that over the past five years Northeastern has increased financial aid spending at double the rate of tuition increases. (Tuition has increased an average of 3.9 percent and financial aid 8.9 percent in the same period.) The University is currently spending $160 million each year (excluding federal funds) on financial aid.

Aoun also stressed that the value proposition for Northeastern students is higher than ever, particularly in the current economy. “Our students get jobs,” he said adding that 90 percent of Northeastern graduates are employed or in graduate school within nine months of graduation, and that the University is consistently ranked first or second in the country relative to job placement.

Looking ahead, he urged the assembled students, faculty and staff not to play it safe. “We’ve been extremely successful, but we have to continue to innovate,” Aoun said.

The president referenced five priorities in need of collective focus in the coming year: An examination of the undergraduate experience; University-wide faculty hires; leadership in security research; campus planning for the future; and the launch of a comprehensive fundraising campaign.

Calling faculty the “backbone of the institution,” Provost Stephen Director followed up on Aoun’s proposals. Director said the new faculty hiring initiative would, over the next two years, bring 12 “transformative” faculty members to Northeastern — scholars who are “shaping new fields and having a significant impact on existing fields.”

On the undergraduate educational initiative, Director explained that the University would come together to better understand co-op and global education, as well as how online courses and technology may provider greater curricular and student-centered flexibility. He said this effort would help articulate a vision for the future of undergraduate education at Northeastern that demonstrates the University’s leadership in global experiential learning.

After his address, President Aoun fielded questions from students in the audience and via social media on a range of topics, such as diversity on campus and plans for more classrooms and other learning spaces.

One student, who submitted a question through Facebook, asked about the University’s co-op offerings outside the Boston area. President Aoun said that today one-third of co-ops take place outside the region, but stressed the University’s commitment to continue expanding experiential learning across the country and around the world.

“The world is too interesting to ignore,” he said.