Higher edu­ca­tion in America is at a water­shed moment in his­tory, in which U.S. insti­tu­tions have a crit­ical role to play in shaping the future and meeting new chal­lenges, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun said in his keynote address on Sat­urday at the Col­lege Board Col­lo­quium in California.

The stakes are high and the oppor­tu­nity is great,” Aoun told an audi­ence of 240 edu­ca­tors and admin­is­tra­tors from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide and school dis­trict super­in­ten­dents from the West Coast.

The annual event brings edu­ca­tion leaders together for serious thinking and spir­ited dia­logue con­cerning crit­ical issues facing higher edu­ca­tion. This year’s theme was “Embracing the ‘New Normal’ ” — and atten­dees praised Aoun for chal­lenging edu­ca­tors to ques­tion his­tor­ical assump­tions of higher edu­ca­tion and operate from a global per­spec­tive by searching for pro­gres­sive models around the world.

As Amer­ican insti­tu­tions face growing chal­lenges that include less gov­ern­ment funding, more fed­eral reg­u­la­tion and increasing com­pe­ti­tion abroad, Aoun said the U.S. is also in the midst of an “explo­sion of knowl­edge” that is gen­er­ating new busi­nesses and indus­tries and shifting the needs of students.

To address this changing land­scape, North­eastern has estab­lished a system of regional cam­puses across the country. Aligning Northeastern’s strengths with the demands of each region’s economy, the cam­puses will offer flex­ible, “hybrid” master’s degree pro­grams that inte­grate both online and class­room learning, a global view and cus­tomiz­able curricula.

Aoun said the U.S. higher edu­ca­tion system has thrived with an open, mer­i­to­cratic, inno­v­a­tive and risk-​​taking model, as Amer­ican uni­ver­si­ties entered into a social com­pact to edu­cate stu­dents who go on to improve society through research and other avenues. But he said the chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury are forcing insti­tu­tions to revisit this com­pact, in which col­leges look beyond the tra­di­tional bound­aries of place, and engage pri­vate and public part­ners to achieve these goals.

This is the way Amer­ican higher edu­ca­tion needs to move for­ward in order to sur­vive and to thrive,” Aoun said. The incor­po­ra­tion of expe­ri­en­tial learning — a hall­mark of Northeastern’s edu­ca­tion model — is also becoming increas­ingly impor­tant to stu­dents by adding valu­able, real-​​world experience.

Speaking of the glob­al­iza­tion of higher edu­ca­tion and the increasing demand for higher edu­ca­tion world­wide, Aoun cau­tioned against the “gold-​​rush men­tality” that often drives over­seas campus expan­sion by U.S. insti­tu­tions. Aoun quoted an edu­ca­tion advisor to the Indian prime min­ister who said the Amer­ican model of higher edu­ca­tion, “is not scal­able, not afford­able, not sus­tain­able and not adaptable.”

The col­lo­quium con­tinued on Sunday, as Aoun par­tic­i­pated in a con­ver­sa­tion about major trends affecting the direc­tion of higher edu­ca­tion and the chal­lenges faced by indi­vidual insti­tu­tions. The dis­cus­sion included the pres­i­dents of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, Spellman Col­lege and Columbus State Com­mu­nity Col­lege, as well as the Col­lege Board’s vice pres­i­dent for higher edu­ca­tion rela­tion­ship development.

The Col­lege Board is a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion con­nects annu­ally with more than 7 mil­lion stu­dents and their par­ents, 23,000 high schools and 3,800 col­leges to pro­vide a path for stu­dents to col­lege opportunities.