Experiential learning, global opportunities set Northeastern apart, President Aoun tells Faculty Senate

Hands raised at Northeastern's Faculty Senate meeting.
Photo by Northeastern University

Northeastern University is focused on building a personalized education for every student through experiential learning and global opportunities, President Joseph E. Aoun told the Faculty Senate Wednesday afternoon.  

“Our goal here is to build a personalized education for our students,” Aoun said. “We want any silos that exist to disappear and focus on a personalized student journey.”  

Aoun said Northeastern is building custom experiences for students across its global university system, which includes 13 campuses across North America and in the U.K., and could expand further as the university considers partnership requests and merger opportunities. 

Many American colleges and universities are struggling with a shrinking number of undergraduate students applying to college. Only 36% of colleges nationwide filled their seats last year, a trend that has been continuing for five or six years, Aoun said. This enrollment drop is contributing to a significant number of mergers, acquisitions and closures across the higher education sector.

However, Northeastern is well positioned, he said, offering brand, value and differentiation that sets its global university system apart. He cited Northeastern’s leadership in experiential learning as its strongest differentiator.

“That’s our DNA. That’s something that is very much in demand, and the students see value in that,” the president said. “We are also a global university, and that’s also an important factor in attracting students.”  

The global university system provides opportunities for undergraduate students to be mobile, Aoun said. Northeastern has comprehensive campuses on the East and West coasts of the U.S.–Mills College at Northeastern in Oakland, California, and the Boston campus–and no other university can make that claim, giving Northeastern another “huge dimension.”  

The recent approval of university status for Northeastern University-London makes Northeastern the only university that offers dual degrees in the United Kingdom and the United States, Aoun said. 

“The students can get dual degrees, therefore, they are ready to operate in the U.K. and they’re ready to operate in the U.S. That’s huge. No other university has that,” he said. “And moving forward, we are going to build differentiation on each campus.”

For example, the Oakland campus is going to focus on experiential entrepreneurship, the president said. All students in Oakland, whether they are studying English or they are studying design or life sciences, are going to have the opportunity to partake in experiential entrepreneurship, whether it’s social entrepreneurship or for-profit entrepreneurship. The ecosystem in the Bay Area is unique, he said, “and we are going to take advantage of that.”

Northeastern University – London offers other opportunities, Aoun said. London is a global gateway to the world, and the focus for students there will be global opportunities. Unlike other universities, Northeastern is not exporting the same curricula at each regional campus, but rather providing students with contextual differentiation. 

“That is very exciting. We foresee more mobility for our students. I believe the students will be attracted to that because they can spend a year at Mills [in Oakland], a year in Boston, or a year in London, and more to come. So the global university system is increasing our value proposition and our differentiation,” he said.

The global university system has allowed Northeastern to pioneer new models for higher education. Aoun said The Roux Institute in Portland, Maine, succeeds based on a novel approach that puts partners at the center. The Roux, he said, has more than 75 partners, and through the partnerships they determine talent and research needs that Northeastern can help address in Maine. 

“The Roux is a big success story. It is having an impact on society, and we have been welcomed and celebrated because of this impact that people are seeing,” Aoun said. “If you look at the model of the Roux Institute, where you start with partners, it is giving us an opportunity to apply it elsewhere.”

“The campuses are giving us opportunities through the work of our colleagues to provide this innovation to provide this impact. And that’s very exciting,” Aoun said.

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