Haeger meets with legislative leaders, foresees continued momentum

The message from President John Haeger’s office lately has been “keep NAU’s positive momentum.”

The 2008 legislative session officially began Monday, but legislative leaders started work early, and Haeger was in their chambers last week to discuss the university’s role in the state’s expected budget deficit.

“The state has some very difficult issues to face, and we are obligated to be fiscally responsible and look for additional cost-saving measures,” Haeger said. “However, Northern Arizona University has made significant strides over the last several years, and we have to keep going in that direction and stay focused on the future.”

Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Legislature have made different proposals to address a deficit in this year’s state budget, which runs through June 30. The governor’s recommendation maintains NAU’s current budget while the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees have recommended a $16 million cut to NAU’s budget.

Yet the process is only in its initial stages, and the Legislature and Governor’s Office will be working over details for the next several weeks.

In the meantime, the president is repeating his call to put talk of budget cuts into context and to reassure the campus that NAU will “do everything necessary to continue to provide faculty and students with the highest quality learning environment.”

On Monday during her State of the State address, the governor reinforced similar statements President Haeger has made to the NAU community about the need to maintain forward progress for the state.

“Our duty is to keep (Arizona’s) momentum going, even as we confront challenges of our current budget,” Napolitano said. “I believe with every fiber of my being that we cannot squeeze the areas most critical to our success.”

She also proposed continued support of all levels of education, calling on the state to double the number of bachelor’s degrees issued by 2020 and recommending a Centennial Scholars program that would guarantee free tuition in Arizona for any student who stayed out of trouble and maintained at least a “B” average during high school.

In response to the governor’s Centennial Scholars initiative, Haeger said, “It is essential to target middle school students and start them early on a track to a college education.” He noted that the NAU-directed, federally funded GEAR UP program is a smaller-scale example of the governor’s intent that helps middle school students from economically disadvantaged areas stay in school, graduate and pursue a higher education with the potential for tuition-free college opportunities.

The high school graduation rate of GEAR UP participants is 82 percent, compared to the state rate of 67 percent, and the college-going rate is a projected 75 percent, compared to 31 percent for the state.

Additionally, Napolitano proposed guaranteed tuition to be the norm for the future at Arizona’s universities. NAU already has introduced a guaranteed tuition plan that takes effect with next year’s freshman class.