Facing a growing demand for accountability and the reality of an altered budget climate, Northern Arizona University must act decisively and soon to remain competitive, President John Haeger said at a campus forum Wednesday.
“The current model is simply not sustainable,” Haeger said before a packed room at the High Country Conference Center. “I think what we’re about to face is truly disruptive change.”
In delivering his remarks, titled “Systemic Change Now: Performance Funding and Student Success,” Haeger returned repeatedly to the idea that business as usual, especially in the areas of state funding and the delivery of education, is no longer a viable approach.
In fact, the two subjects have become inextricably linked.
“Across the nation, state governments are saying that universities have to be more responsive,” Haeger said, “and they have to measure outcomes within the institution.”
That’s clearly the case in Arizona, where the Board of Regents is directing a shift to performance funding. Instead of receiving funding based on enrollment, universities would derive most of their state funding from meeting a set of performance standards. In its current form, a model known as the Enterprise Initiative ties state funding to increases in degrees awarded, student credit hours completed and research funding.
Succeeding in those categories, Haeger said, will require fundamental changes in the way that NAU approaches teaching and the curriculum. That’s especially true, he said, with regard to first-year students.
“Where’s the place we can attack first? A systematic reform of freshman learning,” Haeger said, noting that a number of changes—including the First-Year Learning Initiative and Student Success Coaches, both launched this semester—already are under way. Haeger called for making changes in teaching to better address the way that today’s students learn, advocating the effective use of technology as a key element.
The objective, Haeger said, is to increase freshman retention and, ultimately, the percentage of students who complete their degrees. In terms of retention, Haeger said that “as a university, we have made substantial progress” to reach a three-year rate of 72.5 percent. But he noted that the Regents have set a goal of 85 percent. “We’re going to get real serious about that,” he said.
Haeger appealed to faculty to share their ideas.
“I’m not saying that I have all the answers. I’m saying these are the issues that faculty and departments face.”
While pointing out that performance funding is not scheduled to begin until FY14 (fall of 2013), Haeger explained that if the model, which uses a three-year rolling average, were in effect for next year’s budget request, NAU would “do quite well.”
But he also reminded the audience that the university has lost $60 million in state funding over the past three years, and that total funding per FTE continues to decline.
“If we continue to do business the same way we’re doing it now,” Haeger said, “we will compromise the quality of the institution.”