Northeastern hosts roundtable on higher education legislation

U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney, the only Massachusetts congressman who currently serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee, discussed a range of issues in higher education on Monday morning at Northeastern’s Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security in Burlington, Mass.

The meeting aligned with Tierney’s effort to speak with higher education stakeholders before Congress begins working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in the fall.

Following an introductions by Tim Leshan, Northeastern’s vice president for government relations, Tierney told education officials from state agencies, advocacy groups, and colleges across the state “I thought I would come here and listen to you so we could get out in front of this,” Tierney said.

Topics discussed during the 90-minute meeting included the Perkins Loan program, for which Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun has been a leading advocate, cooperative education, and improved methods for increasing the financial literacy of students.

Jane Brown, Northeastern’s vice president for enrollment management, said the federal government could do more to make complicated financial information more digestible, especially for first-generation college students and their families. “This is information students and their families need before they go to school,” she explained, “and we could use your help in providing a better student toolbox.”

Higher education officials praised the potential of online education, which is already making college more accessible. MIT chancellor Eric Grimson said online learning could level the playing field for students whose high schools do not offer advanced placement classes; help people who already have degrees pursue new areas of study; and make courses from top-tier universities accessible to community college students.

Peter Boynton, founding co-director of the Kostas Institute, gives Tierney a tour of the year-old facility before the roundtable discussion. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Tierney also touched on the looming hike in federal student loan rates, which are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent at the end of June. The issue brought Tierney to campus earlier this month for a conversation on the future of student loans with Aoun and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

On Monday, Tierney said that federal loan programs should charge enough interest to cover their operating costs, but added that private lenders should offer loans below the available rate as a way to make college more accessible.

In his closing remarks, Tierney thanked Northeastern for hosting the event and encouraged attendees to send him their thoughts on the new higher education bill. “We have a lot of experts in this room and I hope to keep you all engaged,” he told them.