That was the question posed by Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun Thursday at a meeting of the University's "Corporation", a group of 50 or so alumni and benefactors that I'm proud to say I've joined.
The answer to President Aoun's provocative question is colleges and universities. He spoke specifically about N.U. which, under his guidance the past four years, has skyrocketed its way up the most important national rankings, attracted some of the world's most gifted academics and become a real player among the elite universities. Indeed, of the nearly 38,000 applicants received this past year, Northeastern rejected nearly two-thirds!
But, Northeastern isn't content to rest on its laurels. The President advised us of some serious global competition from China, Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom that's keeping him up at night. The latter two, deprived of government funding for higher education, have become extremely aggressive in their marketing. The former two, supported by government monies, are fast becoming major factors in higher education. China, said Aoun, has doubled its number of colleges and universities in just 10 years (and the average university is the same size as the city of Boston!). Korea, he said, is making a major push at recruiting international students and is competing with our best schools for the very same talent pool.
Northeastern has a distinct competitive advantage over virtually every other college and university in the world. It's called 'Co-op' and stands for cooperative education. It's a somewhat clumsy phrase to describe THE perfect blend of classroom and real world experience. N.U. pioneered co-op more than 100 years ago and has perfected the model, creating deep and long-lasting relationships with such major global employers as General Electric (no school has more alumni at GE than N.U.). As a result, the vast majority of Northeastern's graduates land jobs. In fact, the school placed no fewer than 83 percent of its June graduates in the midst of the worst recession in 80 years. Compare that number with some state and small liberal arts schools that struggle to place 30 percent of their graduating classes (and are just now getting around to formalizing their intern programs).
N.U.'s success is due, in part, to Aoun's contrarian approach. While other schools were retrenching, Northeastern was investing and expanding. Since 2006, it's hired no fewer than 204 new faculty and improved a campus that is now rated, along with Harvard, as Boston's greenest (a huge factor in attracting the best and brightest Millennials, BTW).
Speaking of the best and brightest, Northeastern is making its acceptance standards even more rigorous. The majority of incoming freshman graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and N.U. now boasts more national merit scholars than ever before.
It's nice to see a real American education success story. It's even nicer to be playing a role in helping President Aoun and his staff take the school to even greater heights.
That said, Steve Cody, Northeastern University class of 1977, wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of ever being accepted to the world class institution that is the N.U. of today.