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Taking success to the next level

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Starting next month, Northeastern will undertake a yearlong exploration and analysis of undergraduate education, sparking a university-wide discussion of the value of having a Northeastern bachelor’s degree.

“As we go into this process, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What are the distinctive characteristics of a Northeastern University graduate?’ ” said Bruce Ronkin, the vice provost for undergraduate education, at yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

Ronkin said the university’s most entrepreneurial students fully benefit from the “Northeastern advantage” — which includes classes led by world-renowned scholars, co-op and study-abroad opportunities across the globe and opportunities for research and service learning. “But not all of our students are taking advantage of that, and that’s why I’m coming to you today,” Ronkin said.

The move comes as interest from prospective students is at an all-time high. This year, for example, early action applications increased 14 percent, to more than 16,000 for 2,800 seats — an average of 5.7 applicants per seat in the 2012 freshman class.

“I’m here today not because something is broken — I’m here because we’ve done a good job,” Ronkin said. “As we attract better and better students who want more and more, we want to look closely at what we do so we can provide the best opportunities for our students to take advantage of when they come to Northeastern.”

From January through May, the colleges will convene individual working groups, and Ronkin will convene cross-college working groups. The groups will also host outside experts to address the campus community and meet with groups working to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing Northeastern.

The discussions, Ronkin said, will start broadly, looking first at the university’s mission and curriculum. “This is a chance to think about where we are going,” Ronkin said.

Throughout the summer, Ronkin will organize the outcomes of the spring semester conversations, posting them online for the university community to digest and discuss. Next fall, he said, will be time “to turn those ideas into reality.”

Provost Stephen W. Director said the endeavor is an opportunity for creative, out-of-the-box thinking about undergraduate education at Northeastern.

Lou Kruger, the Senate Agenda Committee chair, said the Faculty Senate is also eager to participate in the process, which will occur in conjunction with the drafting of a new University Master Plan.