Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun’s mes­sage on Wednesday at his annual address to the Fac­ulty Senate was clear: North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is well-​​positioned to meet the chal­lenges and changing land­scape in higher edu­ca­tion today.

I feel the higher edu­ca­tion pic­ture is exciting,” Aoun said. “It’s exciting for those who are going to take charge and shape the future of higher edu­ca­tion. If we stand still, we are not going to move forward.”

There are many fac­tors con­tributing to changes in higher edu­ca­tion, Aoun explained, including changing stu­dent demo­graphics, a shift from a teacher-​​centered approach to a learner-​​centered approach, and a push at the fed­eral level to mea­sure the value col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties offer their students.

Aoun noted that about 85 per­cent of higher edu­ca­tion stu­dents are non-​​traditional learners, meaning they may be part-​​time stu­dents, working pro­fes­sionals, or off-​​campus res­i­dents. He said Amer­ican uni­ver­si­ties must offer flex­ible pro­grams that meet stu­dents’ needs and focus on out­comes, some­thing he said North­eastern is already doing.

That is an enor­mous change and it isn’t going to diminish,” Aoun said of the demo­graphic shift. “The delivery has to cor­re­spond with the need. Online offer­ings are becoming ubiq­ui­tous. Learners want pro­grams that will allow them to have a better life, which means that it’s not only about content.”

North­eastern has an advan­tage when it comes to the move from teacher-​​centered to learner-​​centered approaches, Aoun noted, due to the university’s long­standing com­mit­ment to expe­ri­en­tial learning through its sig­na­ture co-​​op pro­gram, stu­dent research, and other expe­ri­ences through which stu­dents gain valu­able real-​​world expe­ri­ence and become cit­i­zens of the globe. For example, North­eastern had more than 8,000 co-​​op place­ments last year, and stu­dents are par­tic­i­pating in expe­ri­en­tial learning in 93 coun­tries worldwide.

North­eastern recently released its second annual national survey to find what Amer­i­cans’ atti­tude is toward higher edu­ca­tion in the United States. Among the find­ings was that the public and busi­ness leaders agreed that stu­dents who com­bine study with expe­ri­en­tial learning—through an intern­ship or paid employ­ment related to their field—will have more suc­cessful careers in the long term.

Expe­ri­en­tial is in,” Aoun said. “I really believe we are well posi­tioned. Expe­ri­en­tial learning is our edge, let’s cap­i­talize on that.”

The pres­i­dent also noted that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is taking a hard look at reg­u­la­tions for higher edu­ca­tion that focus on output mea­sures that demon­strate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties’ value and suc­cess. He said it is impor­tant to actively push for mea­sures that make sense for higher education.

The impli­ca­tions for higher edu­ca­tion are enor­mous,” Aoun explained, “because you know when you have uni­form mea­sures, you have to know if those are mea­sures you should be following.”

While the changes to higher edu­ca­tion are coming fast, Aoun said North­eastern is equipped to adapt and con­tinue to pro­vide stu­dents with an out­standing edu­ca­tion. In addi­tion to its strong aca­d­emic and experiential-​​learning pro­grams for under­grad­u­ates, North­eastern offers one of the largest libraries of pro­fes­sional mas­ters pro­grams in the country deliv­ered in a variety of ways—including through its grad­uate cam­puses in Char­lotte, N.C., and Seattle, as well as exclu­sive part­ner­ships with industry such as its high-​​tech MBA pro­gram with IBM in China, India, and the Philippines.

We are offering an edu­ca­tion that is first rate,” he said. “People are coming to us because it is dif­fer­en­ti­ated. That is what we have been working on all together and we are shaping this change.”