Improving access and meeting workforce needs tops NAU agenda

University presidents on stage

Meeting the state’s workforce needs, educating teachers and improving access to all students tops NAU’s agenda, President Rita Cheng told a Greater Phoenix Chamber audience Thursday morning.

Cheng spoke to a panel of about 200 people, alongside Arizona State University President Michael Crow and University of Arizona President Robert Robbins.

The 3rd Annual Valley Voices panel focused on what business and higher education institutions are doing in tandem to revolutionize and grow the economy, and strengthen the workforce pipeline.

“We are laser-focused on ensuring access in areas of high demand,” Cheng said. “We are maximizing efforts to provide students the support services they need to help them navigate their higher education journey. Student success means not only that students complete their degrees, but that their time in school is filled with discovery, research opportunities, exposure to international studies and real-life work experience.”

The state’s university presidents spoke about the impact of research on education, revolutionizing the way students learn and how universities are leading the way for innovation and economic growth.

“In Arizona, one of our strongest community assets is our university system,” said Greater Phoenix Chamber CEO Todd Sanders. “With three dynamic public universities leading the way for innovation and cutting-edge research, while ensuring our incoming workforce meets the demands of business, Arizona is a destination for talent development and business success.”

Cheng spoke about initiatives that will increase access to higher education, including boosting online degree options and adding locations throughout the state in high-demand disciplines such as cybersecurity and health care.

“The economic vitality of communities, the diversity of state economies and the long-term wealth of individuals all benefit from higher education,” Cheng said.  “In Arizona, we have kept education affordable and accessible for resident students, student debt lower than the national average and continued growing programs critical to the new economy.”

During her panel, Cheng shared a few ways NAU is increasing its offerings to its students:

  • The Arizona Teachers Academy has grown from 160 to nearly 800 students who now have an opportunity to pursue a pathway to become a teacher in Arizona, tuition-free. NAU provides national board certification and has 340 current teachers pursuing this additional certification to further their teaching success in the classroom. NAU has graduated about 100 teachers from the academy to date.
  • New, specialized graduate programs have been added in cybersecurity, psychology, nursing, education and engineering.
  • A strong demand for nurses has led NAU to expand its programs and the flexibility with which students can complete degrees. In winter semester 2020, the Bachelor of Science (BSN) nursing program will accept 20 additional students a year. With this expansion, NAU expects to graduate 200 BSN degrees per year by 2023.

For more information, visit nau.edu.