U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney, the only Mass­a­chu­setts con­gressman who cur­rently serves on the House Edu­ca­tion and Work­force Com­mittee, dis­cussed a range of issues in higher edu­ca­tion on Monday morning at Northeastern’s Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity in Burlington, Mass.

The meeting aligned with Tierney’s effort to speak with higher edu­ca­tion stake­holders before Con­gress begins working to reau­tho­rize the Higher Edu­ca­tion Act in the fall.

Fol­lowing an intro­duc­tions by Tim Leshan, Northeastern’s vice pres­i­dent for gov­ern­ment rela­tions, Tierney told edu­ca­tion offi­cials from state agen­cies, advo­cacy groups, and col­leges across the state “I thought I would come here and listen to you so we could get out in front of this,” Tierney said.

Topics dis­cussed during the 90-​​minute meeting included the Perkins Loan pro­gram, for which North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun has been a leading advo­cate, coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion, and improved methods for increasing the finan­cial lit­eracy of students.

Jane Brown, Northeastern’s vice pres­i­dent for enroll­ment man­age­ment, said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could do more to make com­pli­cated finan­cial infor­ma­tion more digestible, espe­cially for first-​​generation col­lege stu­dents and their fam­i­lies. “This is infor­ma­tion stu­dents and their fam­i­lies need before they go to school,” she explained, “and we could use your help in pro­viding a better stu­dent toolbox.”

Higher edu­ca­tion offi­cials praised the poten­tial of online edu­ca­tion, which is already making col­lege more acces­sible. MIT chan­cellor Eric Grimson said online learning could level the playing field for stu­dents whose high schools do not offer advanced place­ment classes; help people who already have degrees pursue new areas of study; and make courses from top-​​tier uni­ver­si­ties acces­sible to com­mu­nity col­lege students.

Peter Boynton, founding co-​​director of the Kostas Insti­tute, gives Tierney a tour of the year-​​old facility before the round­table dis­cus­sion. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Tierney also touched on the looming hike in fed­eral stu­dent loan rates, which are set to double from 3.4 per­cent to 6.8 per­cent at the end of June. The issue brought Tierney to campus ear­lier this month for a con­ver­sa­tion on the future of stu­dent loans with Aoun and Mass­a­chu­setts Sen­ator Eliz­a­beth Warren.

On Monday, Tierney said that fed­eral loan pro­grams should charge enough interest to cover their oper­ating costs, but added that pri­vate lenders should offer loans below the avail­able rate as a way to make col­lege more accessible.

In his closing remarks, Tierney thanked North­eastern for hosting the event and encour­aged atten­dees to send him their thoughts on the new higher edu­ca­tion bill. “We have a lot of experts in this room and I hope to keep you all engaged,” he told them.