In his annual address to the Fac­ulty Senate on Wednesday, Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun’s mes­sage was clear: North­eastern is in the midst of incred­ible momentum, but there are more oppor­tu­ni­ties for reaching unprece­dented heights.

Citing the hiring of more than 300 fac­ulty at a time when others retrenched, Aoun empha­sized the impor­tance of strength­ening teaching and research in strategic areas. In par­tic­ular, he talked about recruiting fac­ulty in clus­ters to boost spe­cific areas of research, as well as building ‘best-​​in-​​class’ Ph.D. programs.

In his remarks, the pres­i­dent talked about the rev­o­lu­tionary growth of online edu­ca­tion, calling it a “dis­rup­tive force to the higher-​​education model as we know it.” He, how­ever, pressed that this change will soon become the new normal so uni­ver­si­ties must be strategic about their value propo­si­tion in order to stand out.

I believe that online is not going to give anyone a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. Everyone has access to online; it’s like elec­tricity,” Aoun said. “If everyone has online, we have to ask our­selves this: ‘What is going to be our differentiation?’”

The answer, Aoun said, comes from Northeastern’s lead­er­ship in expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion, its hybrid approach to online edu­ca­tion and its focus on pro­fes­sional master’s degrees.

We are the leader in expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion anchored in co-​​op. So even if you want to take your classes online, we offer some­thing more,” said Aoun, alluding to the inte­gra­tion of class­room and real-​​world experience.

In the future, Aoun said the uni­ver­sity must sharpen its focus on grad­uate edu­ca­tion, including the new grad­uate cam­puses in Char­lotte, N.C., and Seattle, Wash.

He also urged the university’s col­leges and fac­ulty to help iden­tify domains in which new and existing Ph.D. pro­grams can cat­a­pult North­eastern to the top of the class nationally.

Though the pres­i­dent pre­dicted the seismic shifts in higher edu­ca­tion will surely shake the world of acad­emia, he said North­eastern has and will con­tinue to thrive because the uni­ver­sity bucks the status quo and chooses invest­ment over retrenchment.

North­eastern is an excep­tional uni­ver­sity. Why? North­eastern had many oppor­tu­ni­ties to be like others and every time it said no,” Aoun said. “It did that in terms of co-​​op, it did it in terms of research, it did it in terms of com­mu­nity engage­ment and it did it in terms of global engagement.”

Estab­lishing best-​​in-​​class pro­grams and ini­tia­tives is crit­ical to fur­ther growth, Aoun said.

More than any­thing, Aoun said, it is impor­tant that the uni­ver­sity con­tinues pushing for­ward on a variety of fronts. Northeastern’s top-​​notch ini­tia­tives, like its sig­na­ture co-​​op pro­gram, are already being repli­cated by other uni­ver­si­ties looking to gain new ground, he said.

Let us keep in mind that we have the monopoly of nothing,” Aoun said. “Good ideas can and will be copied. We have a great approach to learning; it will be copied. So to keep ahead of the pack we must be best-​​in-​​class. Frankly that is an oppor­tu­nity and a challenge.”