Higher education must rethink practices, national expert tells NAU audience

Dennis Jones

A nationally known expert on higher education challenged Northern Arizona University to rethink established procedures to achieve the state’s and nation’s goals for an educated populace.

“Business as usual has to be changed or we can give up on the American Dream of higher education,” said Dennis Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Speaking before nearly 200 people on Monday at the High Country Conference Center, Jones explained that changing business as usual means increasing the number of degrees while maintaining—or lowering—costs and keeping quality the same or better. “You have to be more productive, because you can’t shift the financial burden onto the backs of students,” he said.

The state, the federal government and the students themselves have rising expectation of universities, yet the current financial situation will not be getting better soon, and competition for students will continue to increase. But Northern Arizona University still can thrive, he said.

Jones offered several suggestions for taking the initial steps, some of which NAU already has embarked upon.

He suggested that higher education offer “no-frills” institutions. “Your ventures in Prescott Valley and Yuma are closer to responding to this than anything else in the state,” he said. Jones also suggested that NAU ensure collaboration more so with community colleges than with its sister universities.

Reengineer support and administrative functions that would keep student needs and university goals in mind. “We need to create a cost-effective size and keep students in the system,” he said. “At the same time we may want to spend as much time ‘recruiting’ our current freshman class as we do recruiting high school students in Phoenix.”

Support and administrative functions cannot be changed without a reengineered curriculum. “Too many choices are the enemy of student success,” he said. “You have to create a clear path to a degree, and advising has to be part of the curriculum.”  At the same time he suggested minimizing “drops” to improve rates of course completion.

Reducing course options leads to accelerated learning and “clears a path to the end point.”

Jones said he believes that requiring students to earn 120 units for a bachelor’s is a suitable goal, but questions the route students are allowed to take to get there. “I think 120 units is fine, but how many do they take to earn 120? 140? More?”

The webcast of the event will be available in the near future. View photos from the event here.