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Northeastern making its voice heard in Washington

As Congress begins to reauthorize the landmark 1965 Higher Education Act, Northeastern University leaders—led by President Joseph E. Aoun—are playing an active role in Washington to shape the nation’s public policy agenda.

In September, Northeastern unveiled the findings of its latest national opinion poll of employers and the general public that details attitudes toward the future of higher education on issues such as outcomes, workforce preparedness, and online learning. The poll findings—combined with a series of thought leadership events—are part of a multiyear effort by the university to drive the national conversation on the future of higher education.

In August, Aoun sent a detailed letter to congressional leaders with primary responsibility for higher education policy. Aoun’s letter outlines a range of ideas and initiatives designed to strengthen American higher education in the years to come.

“As you prepare to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I encourage you to take stock of the many changes occurring in higher education today, and promote policies that acknowledge these important shifts,” Aoun wrote. A significant number of Aoun’s policy prescriptions focused on the value of co-op and experiential education as powerful and highly relevant learning models.

Aoun, a former chair of the Washington-based American Council on Education, pledged Northeastern’s support in efforts to strengthen and expand the experiential model. He also touched on the important issue of college costs.

“It is vital that Congress reaffirm the historic partnership between students, institutions, and the government that has helped fuel the nation’s economic growth by maintaining the federal investment in student financial aid,” he added.

For its part, Northeastern is providing an unprecedented $204 million in institutional grant aid in 2013-14, the largest financial aid investment in the university’s 115-year history.

On Thursday, Northeastern hosted a congressional staff briefing on Capitol Hill to present its September poll findings, after which a panel of policy experts discussed the implications for reform with regard to the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The panelists hailed the poll data as a strong indicator higher education needs. Andrew Kelly, director of the Center on Higher Education Reform, noted there is a mismatch of what colleges are offering and what students are demanding. He said if colleges and universities don’t fill this gap, new providers will step in. For his part, David Bergeron, vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, noted the importance of long-term internships and experiential learning, saying that more must be done to connect low-income and first-generation college students with these opportunities.