NAU presents preliminary ’08 budget request; discusses allied health program expansion

President John Haeger presented to the Arizona Board of Regents last week Northern Arizona University’s preliminary fiscal year 2008 state budget request, which includes $24.4 million in additional funding to address critical necessities on campus and to serve the state’s educational and workforce training needs.

The state funding request represents an 18 percent increase over last year. In addition to requested funding to cover increases in health insurance and utilities and the cost of operating and maintaining new buildings, NAU’s budget proposal includes about $19 million for strategic initiatives. These include:

  • $4 million for faculty and staff retention and competitiveness; the funding would be in addition to any state employee pay plan package
  • $4 million to expand existing allied health programs in physical therapy, dental hygiene and nursing and to initiate new allied health programs in the state
  • $7 million to address critical building repair needs
  • $2 million to expand access to four-year degrees statewide and on the Flagstaff campus
  • $1 million to increase the number of math and sciences teachers in Arizona
  • $1 million to be split between state water research and the research and service efforts of the Ecological Restoration Institute

The regents are expected to approve the state budget requests of the three universities at its September meeting at NAU.

Haeger also made a request to the regents for $2.3 million of the one-time $12.2 “overrealized” revenue in the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, which is funded by the sales tax generated by Proposition 301 to support education.

The president said the university would use $1 million for planning the proposed expansion of allied health programs. The money would fund staff, operations and facility needs on campus and provide seed money for potential expansion in Arizona of programs such as occupational therapy and physician assistants.

It is anticipated that NAU’s expanded allied health programs would be included as part of the planned medical school campus in Phoenix.

“It’s hard to see a medical school evolving without allied health fields alongside it,” Haeger said.

Arizona is experiencing significant shortages of health professionals, according to a consultant’s report Haeger presented to the regents in June. “This is a state that imports almost all of its allied health workers,” he noted.

Haeger told the regents the university also proposed to use $1.3 million of the overrealized TRIF revenue to lease a new facility off Interstate 17 north of Phoenix to expand NAU’s distance learning presence in Maricopa County.

In other board action, the regents voted to consider a tuition “surcharge” for students who accumulate too many credit hours without earning a degree, according to a new legislatively mandated credit-hour threshold.

A state law enacted in 2005 sets the credit-hour limit for undergraduate students attending public universities at 155 credits this year, 150 credits next year and 145 credits thereafter. The Legislature cuts funding to the universities for each student who exceeds the credit-hour threshold. NAU had about 14 students who exceeded the threshold in fiscal year 2006, which equates to a $186,000 reduction in state appropriations for fiscal year 2007. About 183 students surpassed the threshold systemwide, resulting in a $1.9 million total state budget reduction for all three universities.

Original legislative calculations estimated 1,500 students exceeded the threshold for a potential loss of nearly $8 million to the universities. Justifications for exemptions ultimately brought the number down.

Exemptions to the credit-hour threshold include:

  • degree programs that require credit hours above the threshold
  • credits earned in the pursuit of up to two baccalaureate degrees
  • credits earned in pursuit of up to two state regulated licensures or certificates
  • credits earned in the pursuit of teaching certification
  • credits transferred from a private institution of higher education
  • credits transferred from an institution of higher education in another state
  • credits earned at another institution of higher education but that are not accepted as transfer credits at the university where the student is currently enrolled
  • credits earned by students who enroll at a public university in Arizona more than 24 months after the end of the student’s previous enrollment at a public university in Arizona.

The regents will consider the tuition surcharge at the same time it conducts its hearing on 2007-08 tuition and fees in November. The regents also asked for further analysis of who these students are who exceed the credit-hour threshold.