The university must prepare for a culture shift of immense proportions as it braces for another round of funding cuts from the state, NAU President John Haeger said during a forum on Tuesday.

“Dependence on the state is over in a sense,” he said. “What we need to be looking at is how we are going to run a high-quality university in the future with the state being a minority partner.”

Students part of the conversation

NAU President John Haeger brought together a group of about 30 student leaders last weekend to meet with university administrators for a conversation about the university’s budgeting process and the overall educational experience at NAU.Student participants had the opportunity to meet with Haeger as well as other key leaders, including Christy Farley, vice president for Government Affairs; Liz Grobsmith, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Jennus Burton, vice president for Administration and Finance; Pat Haeuser, vice president for Planning, Budget and Institutional Effectiveness; and David Bousquet, senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.In presentations and table top discussions, participants explored a range of topics that included national and state issues related to higher education, the legislative role in Arizona higher education, the impact of budget on classes and academic programs, capital investments at NAU, the university’s funding formula, tuition, financial aid and enrollment.

“We would like to do this more frequently; it’s such a good way to build relationships and inform students and have them inform us,” said Sarah Bickel, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “We’ve asked these students to go back to their organizations and constituencies to share what they learned with their friends and colleagues.”

Additional student forums are being discussed as a way to continue the dialogue between students and administrators.

More than 400 people crowded into the High Country Conference Center to participate in the forum, with standing room only and many people turned away when the meeting space reached capacity.

With the latest proposed cut of $25.8 million reducing the state’s support to 25 percent of the university’s revenue, down from 41 percent a decade ago, the president said many options are being considered to make up for the loss. Among those options are personnel savings through early retirement and furloughs, tuition and fee increases, and identifying new efficiencies in education delivery.

To combat the funding loss, the university again will offer the Voluntary Separation and Retirement Incentive Plan for qualifying faculty and academic professionals, which saved the university $2 million in FY10 and is estimated to save as much as $3 million for FY12.

Increases in tuition and fees also are under consideration, but the president said he recognizes that the universities cannot solve long-term budget issues simply by raising the cost of attendance.

“The state is beginning to buy down its participation in the funding of public higher education, and the student is having to bear more of the burden,” Haeger said. “We will continue to look for efficiencies to drive down the cost of educating each student.”

Despite the funding cuts, the president said the university will continue to offer the NAU Pledge program that guarantees tuition rates for four years. Additionally, the university offers multiple pathways to a bachelor’s degree throughout the state through community college partnerships and at NAU-Yuma and NAU-Yavapai regional campuses.

Amid decreasing state support, the universities are charged with goals to increase access, boost enrollment, improve freshman retention rates and the six-year graduation rate, and procure additional research funds by 2020.

Nonetheless, Haeger said he is optimistic about the future of the university, citing continued enrollment growth and the recent economic impact report issued by NAU’s Arizona Rural Policy Institute that showed the university contributed $1.5 billion to the state’s economy over the last fiscal year.

Through partnerships and research, the university contributes in numerous ways to the state’s recovery, he said. “We have to see ourselves as more than just an education institution. There are many other roles that we serve.”

The president has scheduled several meetings in the coming weeks with students, staff and faculty to discuss options and ideas. The university will solidify a plan for FY12 by July.