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Congressman talks college costs, economy

U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney of Massachusetts said on Monday morning at Northeastern University that the stability of the economy hinges in no small part on the success of America’s college students, many of whom have been hampered by thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

“We all recognize the importance of higher education for our economy,” Tierney told a contingent of higher education stakeholders who gathered in the Egan Research Center for a meeting of the New England Council’s higher education policy committee.

Student loan debt, he said, places an undue burden on college students, which prevents many graduates from “starting a family or taking the job they really want.”

Northeastern hosted the event as part of an ongoing effort to shape higher-education policy on a national level.

Tierney has long spearheaded the effort to make college more affordable for all students. He has led the congressional fight to preserve the interest rate on Subsidized Stafford Loans and is the only New England congressman who currently serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.

Tim Leshan, Northeastern’s vice president of government relations, introduced Tierney, calling him a “stalwart advocate on behalf of higher education.”

“We are fortunate to work with Congressman Tierney because he truly knows the details of higher education policy,” he added.

North­eastern, for its part, con­tinues to expand its stu­dent financial-​​aid pro­gram. For the upcoming 2012–2013 aca­d­emic year, for example, North­eastern will pro­vide $188 mil­lion in insti­tu­tional schol­ar­ships and grants and admin­is­ter more than $210 mil­lion in fed­eral finan­cial aid.

In June 2011, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun con­vened a group of uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and offi­cials from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion to dis­cuss the administration’s pro­posal to mod­ernize and expand the Perkins Loan Pro­gram. Without con­gres­sional action, the pro­gram will expire in 2014.

“We think it’s an important tool,” Tierney said of the Perkins program.

But he noted that congressional Democrats and Republicans hold fundamentally different viewpoints on how money for student loan programs should be apportioned in the federal budget. As Tierney put it, “The choices are pretty stark.”

After his remarks, Tierney answered questioned posed by members of the higher education policy committee. One member asked how the federal government is addressing the skills-gap between the competencies of new college graduates and the knowledge requirements of their potential employers.

“We try to encourage collaborations between [academia], industry and vendors” in an effort to create more paid internships, Tierney explained, adding that he has introduced legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. “Companies have a broad need for new PhD students, but also students with good technical and communication skills.”