North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun con­vened a group of uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and fed­eral edu­ca­tion offi­cials on Tuesday in Wash­ington, D.C., to dis­cuss cur­rent pro­posals to pre­serve the valu­able Perkins Loan program.

At the open forum, held at the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, Pres­i­dent Aoun and the group of pres­i­dents and offi­cials sat down with Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion Under­sec­re­tary Dr. Martha Kanter to dis­cuss the pro­gram, which is slated for elim­i­na­tion in 2014.

We’re here to have a dia­logue on the impor­tant issue of col­lege afford­ability,” said Pres­i­dent Aoun, who met with Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion offi­cials in December to begin a dis­cus­sion of the Perkins pro­gram. “Our goal today is to dis­cuss this issue and develop some prin­ci­ples for moving forward.”

Kanter, who thanked Pres­i­dent Aoun for con­vening the packed event, said, “We’ve got to secure the Perkins Loan Pro­gram for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of under­grad­uate and grad­uate stu­dents who depend on it.”

Kanter said that Tuesday’s meeting must be part of a larger con­ver­sa­tion about stu­dent loans and stu­dent debt. She also noted Pres­i­dent Obama’s goal to make America the world leader in col­lege attain­ment — increasing the number of high school stu­dents moving on to col­lege from the cur­rent 39 per­cent to 60 per­cent by 2020 — and that finan­cial aid is a crit­ical piece of the puzzle.

The event included com­ments from seven other uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents, ranging from the leaders of large insti­tu­tions such as the Uni­ver­sity of South Florida to smaller schools such as Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. In addi­tion to Kanter, sev­eral other senior Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion offi­cials spoke, including assis­tant sec­re­tary David Berg­eron, who explained the polit­ical and fiscal chal­lenges asso­ci­ated with con­tin­uing the Perkins Loan program.

We’ve heard that we need to keep the Perkins pro­gram going, keep it simple and keep it flex­ible,” said Aoun, as he wrapped up the meeting. “The work begins for us today. We will follow up and con­tinue to advo­cate for our stu­dents and their families.”

Tuesday’s event fol­lows a letter sent in Feb­ruary 2011 by Pres­i­dent Aoun and 33 other uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents to Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Duncan, in which they called for a com­mit­ment to con­tinue and strengthen the program.

The letter lauded 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 noted the higher edu­ca­tion community’s strong com­mit­ment to the Perkins pro­gram, even in the absence of new fed­eral cap­ital con­tri­bu­tions since 2004.

Pres­i­dent Aoun has taken a lead­er­ship role in addressing other issues crit­ical to higher edu­ca­tion on a national stage.

In April 2010, Pres­i­dent Aoun coor­di­nated 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 coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion — 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 curricula.