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Northeastern well-positioned to meet higher ed challenges, Aoun says

President Joseph E. Aoun’s message on Wednesday at his annual address to the Faculty Senate was clear: Northeastern University is well-positioned to meet the challenges and changing landscape in higher education today.

“I feel the higher education picture is exciting,” Aoun said. “It’s exciting for those who are going to take charge and shape the future of higher education. If we stand still, we are not going to move forward.”

There are many factors contributing to changes in higher education, Aoun explained, including changing student demographics, a shift from a teacher-centered approach to a learner-centered approach, and a push at the federal level to measure the value colleges and universities offer their students.

Aoun noted that about 85 percent of higher education students are non-traditional learners, meaning they may be part-time students, working professionals, or off-campus residents. He said American universities must offer flexible programs that meet students’ needs and focus on outcomes, something he said Northeastern is already doing.

“That is an enormous change and it isn’t going to diminish,” Aoun said of the demographic shift. “The delivery has to correspond with the need. Online offerings are becoming ubiquitous. Learners want programs that will allow them to have a better life, which means that it’s not only about content.”

Northeastern has an advantage when it comes to the move from teacher-centered to learner-centered approaches, Aoun noted, due to the university’s longstanding commitment to experiential learning through its signature co-op program, student research, and other experiences through which students gain valuable real-world experience and become citizens of the globe. For example, Northeastern had more than 8,000 co-op placements last year, and students are participating in experiential learning in 93 countries worldwide.

Northeastern recently released its second annual national survey to find what Americans’ attitude is toward higher education in the United States. Among the findings was that the public and business leaders agreed that students who combine study with experiential learning—through an internship or paid employment related to their field—will have more successful careers in the long term.

“Experiential is in,” Aoun said. “I really believe we are well positioned. Experiential learning is our edge, let’s capitalize on that.”

The president also noted that the federal government is taking a hard look at regulations for higher education that focus on output measures that demonstrate colleges and universities’ value and success. He said it is important to actively push for measures that make sense for higher education.

“The implications for higher education are enormous,” Aoun explained, “because you know when you have uniform measures, you have to know if those are measures you should be following.”

While the changes to higher education are coming fast, Aoun said Northeastern is equipped to adapt and continue to provide students with an outstanding education. In addition to its strong academic and experiential-learning programs for undergraduates, Northeastern offers one of the largest libraries of professional masters programs in the country delivered in a variety of ways—including through its graduate campuses in Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle, as well as exclusive partnerships with industry such as its high-tech MBA program with IBM in China, India, and the Philippines.

“We are offering an education that is first rate,” he said. “People are coming to us because it is differentiated. That is what we have been working on all together and we are shaping this change.”