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Northeastern, GE partner on accelerated manufacturing degree program

Northeastern University and General Electric have announced a partnership that will allow students to earn an accelerated bachelor’s degree that incorporates hands-on training at the company.

Students of the program, set to debut in the spring, will be able to earn a degree in advanced manufacturing in three years or less by taking online courses from Northeastern and undergoing in-person employee training at GE, the university said.

For General Electric, which is relocating its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston’s Seaport, the partnership is one of the first concrete steps to tap into the region’s thriving higher education community. The company has cited the wealth of colleges and universities as a draw.


The partnership is part of a federal pilot program announced by the Obama administration that allows students earning degrees that include significant training at companies to access federal financial aid.

The Northeastern program will cost students $10,000 per year and be launched with a first class of between 20 and 50 GE employees, the company said. After that, Northeastern plans to open the program to any student.

Northeastern’s president, Joseph Aoun, said the goal is to offer faster, less expensive degrees that incorporate real-world experience and that lead to jobs.

“Higher education cannot keep doing things the way it has for the past 300 years,” Aoun said in a a conference call with reporters last week. “We have to integrate the classroom experience with the world experience and the work experience.”

National education officials said the partnerships are designed to be accessible to low-income students, first-generation students, returning veterans, and part-time workers.

“To accommodate these students, we can’t continue to do more of the same,” said Ted Mitchell, the federal undersecretary of education, speaking on the conference call.

The Northeastern-GE arrangement was one of eight programs across the country selected for the federal pilot program, known as EQUIP, or Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships.


Normally, students enrolled in programs where at least half of the instruction comes from companies, which are not accredited like colleges and universities, cannot receive federal financial aid such as Pell grants or student loans.

The EQUIP program is an exception, a sort of test by the federal government to see whether this mode of education can yield more students to fit the jobs that are available.

In announcing the program, federal officials said they will keep a sharp eye on it, to make sure students complete it successfully and get jobs, as promised. The Obama administration has cracked down on for-profit colleges that mislead students while profiting off of federal student aid.

Northeastern University has a history of emphasizing real-world experience for students, who regularly complete co-op internships at companies around the city and world as part of earning an undergraduate degree.

The university has three remote campuses, in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Charlotte, N.C., that cater to working students and partner with local businesses that offer online courses.

The seven other programs selected across the country include coding companies in Oregon, New York, Texas, and Delaware, and three private education companies.

GE will receive none of the financial aid money available to students, according to the company and Northeastern. Its reward, company officials said, will be a more skilled workforce.

GE said it wants the program to start small, then grow. Everyone from floor workers in manufacturing plants to supervisors who want to increase their digital skills can participate.


“Technology is rapidly changing the manufacturing workforce, so we have to look at the trends and see what makes the most sense,” Bishop wrote in an e-mail.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.