U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney of Mass­a­chu­setts said on Monday morning at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity that the sta­bility of the economy hinges in no small part on the suc­cess of America’s col­lege stu­dents, many of whom have been ham­pered by thou­sands of dol­lars of stu­dent loan debt.

We all rec­og­nize the impor­tance of higher edu­ca­tion for our economy,” Tierney told a con­tin­gent of higher edu­ca­tion stake­holders who gath­ered in the Egan Research Center for a meeting of the New Eng­land Council’s higher edu­ca­tion policy committee.

Stu­dent loan debt, he said, places an undue burden on col­lege stu­dents, which pre­vents many grad­u­ates from “starting a family or taking the job they really want.”

North­eastern hosted the event as part of an ongoing effort to shape higher-​​education policy on a national level.

Tierney has long spear­headed the effort to make col­lege more afford­able for all stu­dents. He has led the con­gres­sional fight to pre­serve the interest rate on Sub­si­dized Stafford Loans and is the only New Eng­land con­gressman who cur­rently serves on the House Edu­ca­tion and Work­force Com­mittee and the Sub­com­mittee on Higher Edu­ca­tion and Work­force Training.

Tim Leshan, Northeastern’s vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment rela­tions, intro­duced Tierney, calling him a “stal­wart advo­cate on behalf of higher education.”

We are for­tu­nate to work with Con­gressman Tierney because he truly knows the details of higher edu­ca­tion policy,” he added.

North­eastern, for its part, con­tinues to expand its stu­dent financial-​​​​aid pro­gram. For the upcoming 2012–2013 aca­d­emic year, for example, North­eastern will pro­vide $188 mil­lion in insti­tu­tional schol­ar­ships and grants and admin­is­ter more than $210 mil­lion in fed­eral finan­cial aid.

In June 2011, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun con­vened a group of uni­ver­sity pres­i­dents and offi­cials from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion to dis­cuss the administration’s pro­posal to mod­ernize and expand the Perkins Loan Pro­gram. Without con­gres­sional action, the pro­gram will expire in 2014.

We think it’s an impor­tant tool,” Tierney said of the Perkins program.

But he noted that con­gres­sional Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans hold fun­da­men­tally dif­ferent view­points on how money for stu­dent loan pro­grams should be appor­tioned in the fed­eral budget. As Tierney put it, “The choices are pretty stark.”

After his remarks, Tierney answered ques­tioned posed by mem­bers of the higher edu­ca­tion policy com­mittee. One member asked how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is addressing the skills-​​gap between the com­pe­ten­cies of new col­lege grad­u­ates and the knowl­edge require­ments of their poten­tial employers.

We try to encourage col­lab­o­ra­tions between [acad­emia], industry and ven­dors” in an effort to create more paid intern­ships, Tierney explained, adding that he has intro­duced leg­is­la­tion to reau­tho­rize the Work­force Invest­ment Act. “Com­pa­nies have a broad need for new PhD stu­dents, but also stu­dents with good tech­nical and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.”