North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun is leading a coali­tion of higher edu­ca­tion leaders throughout the country to urge the Obama admin­is­tra­tion to pre­serve the Perkins stu­dent loan pro­gram, which ben­e­fits more than 500,000 low-​​income col­lege stu­dents each year.

In a letter to U.S. Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion Arne Duncan, Pres­i­dent Aoun and 32 pres­i­dents and chan­cel­lors from other insti­tu­tions, along with the Amer­ican Asso­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sors, call for a com­mit­ment to con­tin­uing and strength­ening the pro­gram, which faces an uncer­tain future. According to a recent state­ment by the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, the Perkins loans would con­tinue only through 2014.

The group empha­sized the impor­tance of main­taining the pro­gram in the long term, and expressed a will­ing­ness to col­lab­o­rate with the depart­ment to ensure that the need­iest of stu­dents reach their dreams of attending college.

While we greatly appre­ciate the department’s recent announce­ment that the Perkins Loan pro­gram will now be autho­rized through 2014, we remain con­cerned about the long-​​term via­bility of the pro­gram,” the letter reads. “Ending this pro­gram would be directly at odds with Pres­i­dent Obama’s ambi­tious goal for the U.S. to have the highest pro­por­tion of col­lege grad­u­ates in the world by 2020. To achieve this goal, it is essen­tial that stu­dents have max­imum access to low-​​cost col­lege financing options, including Perkins loans. We are deeply con­cerned that if the pro­gram is elim­i­nated in 2014, fewer stu­dents will attend col­lege, more will drop out, and the level of high-​​interest debt will increase for many more students.”

The letter lauds the suc­cess of the Perkins pro­gram, which pro­vides more than $1 bil­lion a year in need-​​based aid to stu­dents enrolled in nearly 1,800 par­tic­i­pating col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. It also notes the higher edu­ca­tion community’s strong com­mit­ment to the Perkins pro­gram, even in the absence of new fed­eral cap­ital con­tri­bu­tions since 2004.

In their letter, Pres­i­dent Aoun and the group acknowl­edged the efforts of Con­gress and the Obama admin­is­tra­tion last year to rein­vig­o­rate the pro­gram as part of a larger stu­dent loan reform bill. But it was ulti­mately dropped from the legislation.

[We] look for­ward to working with you to pre­serve the ben­e­fits of the Perkins loan pro­gram and help America emerge, once again, as the nation with the highest pro­por­tion of col­lege grad­u­ates in the world,” the letter reads.

This cam­paign con­tinues Pres­i­dent Aoun’s lead­er­ship in addressing crit­ical higher edu­ca­tion issues on the national stage. Last April, he led a group of col­lege pres­i­dents in urging cau­tion amid the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor’s plan to reg­u­late unpaid intern­ships. In his letter to U.S. Sec­re­tary of Labor Hilda Solis — signed by 13 col­lege pres­i­dents — he argued for pro­tecting the value of expe­ri­en­tial learning. As the pres­i­dent of North­eastern — a world leader in expe­ri­en­tial learning and co-​​op — he lauded the demand for this pow­erful way of learning as a growing number of col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are expanding and inte­grating intern­ships into their curriculum.

Click here to read The Boston Globe’s cov­erageof Pres­i­dent Aoun’s efforts to pro­tect low-​​interest loans