Long-distance Lumberjacks: NAU partnering with school districts, cities to provide degree programs in students’ hometowns

extended campus

As NAU grows, an increasing number of Lumberjacks come to Flagstaff for the first time to graduate.

To better serve the statewide population, Northern Arizona University has expanded outward and online, looking for ways to provide a high-quality education where people are—sometimes literally, right to where people work.

Such is the case for partnerships with the City of Tempe and a number of school districts throughout the state who have created cohorts of students within their own areas, allowing NAU faculty members to bring curriculum directly to them, said Doug Small, director of strategic partnerships. Students have the same criteria and same rigorous coursework, but they’re learning with their peers and around their schedules just a few miles from where they live and work.

“They’re busy working and balancing family life and school, so students are happy with how hassle-free it’s been,” Small said. “These have been really good partnerships.”

Grow Your Own Administrators

After spending eight hours a day in the classroom, most teachers aren’t all that jazzed about driving to a university campus and spending another few hours in the classroom, this time as students.

So NAU brought the classes to them. Grow Your Own Administrators has a variety of cohorts in the Phoenix and Tucson areas; each participating school district has its own cohort that meets in a district building, so no one has far to commute. The cohorts are small, just 10-15 students each, and the courses include instruction both from NAU faculty members and from district administrators who have expertise in specific areas.

“They’re still teaching our content about leadership or budgeting, but they can bring in examples of how that’s applies in their own district,” Small said. “It provides that kind of real-world experience administrators need.”

Teachers need at least three years of teaching experience to apply for the program and need to meet all of the Graduate College’s requirements for admission into a graduate program. In addition to their coursework they shadow administrators from their district, focusing on challenges in their classrooms and schools instead of case studies from a textbook.

When the cohort is complete, participants earn a master’s degree in educational leadership and have the courses necessary to get their principal certification from the state. They also have built a network of contacts throughout their district and with NAU.

New cohorts this spring include Chandler, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Deer Valley unified school districts, along with the Phoenix Elementary School District, Agua Fria Union and the Vail School District in Tucson.

City of Tempe partnership

One night a week, two dozen people gather at the City of Tempe Public Library, pens in hand, laptops open, ready for class. By day, each of these people work for the City of Tempe, fulfilling a variety of services. By night, they are NAU Lumberjacks working toward a bachelor’s degree.

This partnership, which NAU and the city began a year ago, will help 24 city employees earn bachelor’s degrees in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in public administration. All of the employees had at least 60 transferrable college credits prior to beginning the program, so NAU is providing the last two years of their degree.

The city pays $5,000 per person per year in tuition, so Small and his team organized classes to keep tuition and fees at less than that amount. Classes are eight weeks long, some in person and some online.

Wydale Holmes, who works in the Office of Strategic Management & Diversity for the city of Tempe, is the point of contact between the city and NAU. She said Tempe selected NAU after a competitive bid process, which included orientation specifically for adult students, delivering books to the site and offering academic counseling.

City officials decided to make this investment to help provide a better customer experience for our residents, businesses and visitors. They have also found this, and similar programs, to increase satisfaction among employees, who can go to school in their hometown with other city employees.

“Employees have said they never would have gone to school without this program,” she said. “The knowledge and confidence helps them face new challenges and be prepared for opportunities, both personal and professional. We know from our history that employees appreciate the program and their relationship with NAU, and they value the experience.

“Our experience with NAU is a model for successful partnerships, for developing skilled workforce members and for better customer experiences.”

About NAU’s Extended Campuses and online offerings

Almost a third of NAU students take online courses or attend classes somewhere other than the Flagstaff campus. NAU has partnerships with 22 community colleges and other entities so students throughout the state can earn degrees in their hometowns, allowing them to fit their coursework around careers and family responsibilities. A number of these are hybrid programs, with some online and some in-person learning. NAU also offers a number of online-only degrees. To learn more about the degrees offered and how to apply, visit the Extended Campuses website.


NAU Communications