Access, affordability, efficiency and research are keys to ‘Arizona Higher Education Enterprise’

Higher education expert to discuss the changing university environment

Dennis JonesDennis Jones, a nationally known expert on higher education, is scheduled to make a presentation on changes to university systems when he visits the NAU Flagstaff campus at the beginning of November.

Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, will discuss “Rethinking the University: Fulfilling the Mission in a Changing Environment” beginning at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in the High Country Conference Center.

The center is a private nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve strategic decision making in higher education for states and institutions in the United States and abroad. In addition to being the center president, Jones has done consulting work for NAU over the last eight years.

Northern Arizona University President John Haeger joined the Arizona State University and University of Arizona presidents to unveil the Arizona Board of Regents’ plan for realignment and restructuring of the state’s higher education system at the board’s annual retreat last week in Tempe.

The university presidents presented the Arizona Higher Education Enterprise, a detailed plan to accomplish the regents’ goal of boosting the number of Arizona residents who earn baccalaureate degrees while improving the economic security of the state. The plan positions each university as part of a business enterprise geared toward meeting needs of the 21st century economy.

“In Arizona and across the nation there is a demand for higher education institutions to fundamentally change the way they operate to meet the needs of growing student populations and changing economies,” said ABOR Chair Anne Mariucci. “We have to adjust to the fiscal realities of the shrinking state budgets, and this realignment draws on the strengths of each university to enhance its value to the students, the public and the state.”

The plan includes increasing accessibility to higher education through more points of delivery and lower tuition rates, boosting research as an economic driver, and determining and meeting workforce needs.

The universities’ charge is to bump up the number bachelor’s degrees earned by residents by improving freshman retention rates and six-year graduation rates, expanding access throughout the state, stepping-up research programs and offering varied, more affordable pathways to a degree.

Among NAU’s goals are to boost overall enrollment to 40,000 with 25,000 students at the Flagstaff campus, raise freshman retention rates from 71 percent to 85 percent, increase six-year graduation rates from 50 percent to 65 percent at the Flagstaff campus and implement differential tuition and admissions standards at regional campuses.

The plan also calls for doubling the research expenditures at the Flagstaff campus from $50 million to $100 million annually.

“We have to shift from the mindset of an industry-driven economy to a global, knowledge-based economy where the corners of the world are within reach,” Haeger said. “We have to expand our definition of what we do for the people of this state if we want them to invest in us.”

NAU’s efforts to broaden access to higher education have brought 16 partnerships with community colleges to fruition, paving a seamless pathway for students to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree. The newest partnership with Central Arizona College was established last week.

Additionally, NAU has expanded its presence throughout the state with NAU-Yuma and NAU-Yavapai, bringing the prospect of a four-year degree to residents in their communities.

Haeger said that the university-model will continue to evolve to accommodate different needs for different students.

“We have to change the systems and delivery to make these universities customer service centers,” Haeger said. “We are providing access throughout the state and trying to open the doors to many more students. Different education structures will appeal to different students. When a four-year residential experience is not the best fit for a student, then we determine another method to meet their needs.”

While the plan aims to provide for a skilled workforce, research and development at the state’s institutions is expected to bolster the growth of businesses.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute, Flagstaff Medical Center, U.S. Geological Survey and the National Forest Service rely on NAU for vital research projects and essential skills training.

Coming changes for the university system will include evaluating underperforming degree programs and developing efficiencies, such as avoiding universities’ duplication of offerings at distance learning sites.

Haeger said the university system restructuring will require evaluating degree programs, but also a shift in philosophy and communication.

“We used to say to students, ‘Take your time.’ We’ve got to change the language we use to move students more quickly toward earning their degree.”