Amid sequester, Aoun pushes higher-education priorities in Washington

This week, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun visited Washington for a series of high-level meetings on Capitol Hill and to chair the American Council on Education’s annual meeting to discuss a range of higher-education priorities.

Aoun met separately on Tuesday with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren—a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions—and Mo Cowan, a 1994 graduate of Northeastern’s School of Law. In his meetings with the new members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, Aoun highlighted a broad spectrum of higher-education topics. Among them were the importance of innovation in higher education and finding ways to expand federal funding aimed at work-study programs to also include students working on co-op—the signature program in Northeastern’s experiential-education model.

President Joseph E. Aoun (right) meets with U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

On Monday, Aoun met with U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. In their meeting, Aoun discussed federal regulation of higher education and stressed the need for Washington’s support of programs that increase student-aid funding and incentivize innovation in higher education. They also discussed the upcoming hearings and expected vote next year to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which sets the policy in areas such as strengthening colleges and universities’ educational resources and providing financial aid to students.

The meetings come only days after sequestration—a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling an estimated $1.2 trillion over 10 years—went into effect. While the full scope of the sequester’s potential impact in areas such as research funding and financial aid programs remains unclear, Northeastern’s preparations for this fiscal reality have been underway for months.

“Accelerating our research enterprise is a top priority for the institution and our research efforts will continue even as the funding landscape becomes more challenging,” Mel Bernstein, senior vice provost for research and graduate education, wrote in a memo last week to Northeastern faculty and staff. Bernstein added that the cuts will not affect the Pell Grant program, nor will it impact the students’ financial aid for now, but that planning is underway to offset any future change.

In Washington, Aoun also chaired the American Council on Education’s annual meeting, where he concluded his one-year term as chair of the ACE board of directors. As board chair, Aoun continued his advocacy for the strength and diversity of the American system of higher education, which he has said must continue to innovate to compete globally and meet the challenges of the 21st century. Aoun will remain an active member on the ACE executive committee.

Northeastern’s president has long taken a leadership role in addressing issues critical to higher education on a national stage. Last year, Aoun was named to a new academic advisory council reporting directly to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that examines how universities can contribute to America’s national security efforts. He has also coordinated efforts with other college presidents to support critical research funding in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget, to preserve federal financial aid funding for students, and to urge caution on regulation of unpaid internships at the federal level.