Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina
Northeastern University (NU or NEU) is a private research university in Boston, Massachusetts. Established in 1898, the University offers undergraduate and graduate programs on its main campus in Boston, as well as satellite campuses in Charlotte, North Carolina; Seattle, Washington; San Jose, California; San Francisco, California; Portland, Maine; and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. In 2019, Northeastern purchased the New College of the Humanities in London, England. The university’s enrollment is approximately 19,000 undergraduate students and 8,600 graduate students. It is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity,” the highest research classification among American universities. Admission to the University is among the most selective in the country.
Northeastern features a signature cooperative education program, more commonly known as “co-op,” that integrates classroom study with professional experience and includes over 3,100 partners across all seven continents. The program has been a key part of Northeastern’s curriculum of experiential learning for more than a hundred years and is one of the largest co-op/internship programs in the world. While not required for all academic disciplines, participation is nearly universal among undergraduate students who seek professional experience. Northeastern also has a comprehensive study abroad program that spans more than 170 universities and colleges.
Northeastern is a large, highly residential University. Most students choose to live on campus, but upperclassmen have the option to live off campus. Seventy-eight percent of Northeastern students receive some form of financial aid. In the 2020–21 school year, the University committed $355 million in grant and scholarship assistance. In 2019, Northeastern’s six-year graduation rate was 89 percent.
The University’s sports teams, the Northeastern Huskies, compete in NCAA Division I as members of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in 18 varsity sports. The men’s and women’s hockey teams compete in Hockey East, while the men’s and women’s rowing teams compete in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) and Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges (EAWRC), respectively. Men’s Track and Field has won the CAA back to back years in 2015 and 2016. In 2013, men’s basketball won its first CAA regular season championship, men’s soccer won the CAA title for the first time, and women’s ice hockey won a record 16th Beanpot championship. The Northeastern men’s hockey team won the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Beanpot, beating out Boston University, Boston College and Harvard.
In May 1896, directors of the Boston Young Men’s Christian Association, the first in the U.S., established an Evening Institute for Younger Men, to merge, coordinate and improve its classes that had evolved over the past 40 years. Included among roughly 30 courses offered were algebra, bookkeeping, literature, French, German, Latin, geography, electricity, music, penmanship and physiology. In addition, a banjo club, camera club, orchestra, and weekly parlimentary debates and discussions were promoted. A good education for “any young man of moral character” with a YMCA membership was promised. Located in a new headquarters building at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley streets in Boston, the institute held its first classes in 1898, starting what would transform into Northeastern University over the course of four decades. After a fire, a new building was constructed on Huntington Avenue in 1911.
The School of Law was formally established that year with the assistance of an advisory committee, consisting of James Barr Ames, dean of the Harvard Law School; Samuel Bennett, dean of the Boston University School of Law; and Judge James R. Dunbar. In 1903, the first Automobile Engineering School in the country was established, followed by a Polytechnic School in 1904 and a School of Commerce and Finance in 1907. Day classes began in 1909. In 1916, a bill was introduced into the Massachusetts Legislature to incorporate the institute as Northeastern College. After considerable debate and investigation, it was passed in March 1916.
In 1909, the Polytechnic School began offering co-operative engineering courses to eight students. A four-year daytime program had been established consisting of alternating single weeks of classroom instruction and practical work experience with mostly railroad companies that agreed to accept student workers. In 1920, the Co-operative School of Engineering, which later became the College of Engineering, was first authorized to grant degrees in civil, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. The cooperative program, the second of its kind in the U.S. after one in Cincinnati, Ohio, was eventually adopted by all departments.
On March 30, 1917, veteran educator Frank Palmer Speare, who had served as director of the institute, was inaugurated as the first president of the newly incorporated Northeastern College. Five years later the college changed its name to Northeastern University to better reflect the increasing depth of its instruction. In March 1923, the University secured general (A.B. and B.S.) degree-granting power from the Legislature, with the exception of the medical and dental degrees.
The College of Liberal Arts was added in 1935. Two years later the Northeastern University Corporation was established, with a board of trustees composed of 31 University members and 8 from the YMCA. In 1948, Northeastern separated itself completely from the YMCA.
Following World War II, Northeastern began admitting women. During the postwar educational boom, the University created the College of Education (1953), University College (1960), now called the College of Professional Studies, and the Colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing (1964) (later combined into the Bouvé College of Health Sciences). The creation of the College of Criminal Justice (1967) followed, and then the College of Computer Science (1982).
By the early 1980s the one-time night commuter school had grown to nearly 50,000 enrollees, including all full- and part-time programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. By 1989–90, University enrollment had reduced to about 40,000 full, part-time, and evening students, and in 1990 the first class with more live-on-campus than commuter students was graduated. Following the retirement of President Kenneth Ryder 1989, the University adopted a slow and more thoughtful approach to change. Historically, it had been accepting between 7,500 and 10,000 students per year based on applications of about 15,000 to 20,000 with acceptance rates between 50% and 75% depending on the program. Attrition rates were huge, with a 25% freshmen dropout rate and graduation rate below 50%, with only 40% of 5,672 undergraduate full-time day students enrolled in the Fall of 1984 graduating by 1989.
When President John Curry left office in 1996 the university population had been systematically reduced to about 25,000. Incoming President Richard M. Freeland decided to focus on recruiting the type of students who were already graduating as the school’s prime demographic. In the early 1990s, the university cut its freshman class size from around 4,500 students to 2,800 in order to become more selective and began a $485 million construction program that included residence halls, academic and research facilities, and athletic centers. Between 1995 and 2007 average SAT scores increased more than 200 points, retention rates rose dramatically, and applications doubled.
Robert J. Shillman Hall, constructed in 1995.
During the University’s transition, students experienced a reorganization of the co-operative education system to better integrate classroom learning with workplace experience. Full-time degree programs shifted from a four-quarter system to two traditional semesters and two summer “minimesters”, allowing students to both delve more deeply into their academic courses and experience longer, more substantive co-op placements.
Throughout the transformation, President Freeland’s oft-repeated goal was to crack the Top 100 of the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. With this accomplished by 2005 the transformation from commuting school to national research university was complete. Freeland stepped down on August 15, 2006 and was replaced by Dr. Joseph Aoun, a former dean at the University of Southern California. Aoun implemented a decentralized management model, giving university deans more control over their budgets, faculty hiring decisions, and fundraising.
Northeastern’s historic Ell Hall on Huntington Avenue.
As part of a five-year, $75 million Academic Investment Plan that ran from 2004 and 2009 the University concentrated on undergraduate education, core graduate professional programs, and centers of research excellence. Faculty was originally to be bolstered by 100 new tenured and tenure-track professors, later expanded to include 300 additional tenure and tenure-track faculty in interdisciplinary fields. Aoun also placed more emphasis on improving community relations by reaching out to leaders of the neighborhoods surrounding the university. In addition, Aoun has created more academic partnerships with other institutions in the Boston area, including Tufts, Hebrew College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
During this time, Northeastern has advanced in national rankings. It placed 42nd in the 2014–15 U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges Guide”, a 7 position jump from 2013–14 and a 27 place gain just since 2010–11. Some have argued that Northeastern’s recent rise in the rankings shows that the university has “cracked the code” to academic rankings, while others have suggested that it has figured out how to “game the system”. The 2021 edition of U.S. News & World Report ranked Northeastern 49th in its annual ranking of National Universities.
Whether the rise of Northeastern’s ranking was the result of an effort to game the system or not, critics would agree that the institution’s continual improvements in its placement in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges Guide” allowed the university to improve rapidly via a significantly larger endowment and a more-competitive student body. This explains why it was able to attain higher rankings than other local schools such as Simmons College and Wentworth Institute of Technology (which were started around the same time). Northeastern’s reputation benefited from a positive feedback effect, in that improved rankings gave the university access to more resources which in turn allowed them to further improve the quality of the university and therefore their rankings. The quality of the university has improved dramatically within the last two decades as a result of the introduction of new academic programs, far more competitive applicants, new buildings, a larger endowment, alumni donations, new satellite campuses, and the expansion of their flagship co-op program.
More recently the University has continued to focus on global expansion. In late 2018, Northeastern University announced the acquisition of the New College of the Humanities, a small private London-based college founded by the philosopher A. C. Grayling. The move was seen as unorthodox as most U.S. colleges have typically chosen to build new campus branches abroad, rather than purchasing existing ones. In the summer of 2019, Northeastern announced it was launching a new satellite campus in Vancouver, Canada. In January 2020, Northeastern announced that it was opening the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine, a new research institute focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning in digital and life sciences. The decision came after Northeastern was selected for a $100 million donation by David Roux, in hopes of turning the city into a new tech hub and in an attempt to spark economic growth in the region.
During the last few years, major developments include Northeastern becoming recognized as an arboretum, opening a $225 million research and laboratory complex known as the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC), launching the Institute for Experiential Artificial Intelligence with a $50 million donation, as well as renaming the College of Computer and Information Science to the Khoury College of Computer Sciences with another $50 million donation from Amin Khoury.
Upcoming projects include plans to build EXP, another research facility created to support Northeastern’s work in autonomous vehicles, drones, and humanoid robots. This building will be approximately 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) larger than ISEC and is expected to be completed by 2023.