NAU’s business plan, successes win high praise at regents meeting

Northern Arizona University President John Haeger presented the university’s Strategic Business Plan to the Arizona Board of Regents, detailing the university’s broad successes and painting a positive picture of NAU’s future.

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During a meeting of the regents on Thursday in Flagstaff, Haeger explained the university’s mission and its place both in the Arizona university system and among its peer institutions. NAU’s successes come as it operates with the lowest per-student state appropriation in a decade.

Haeger credited NAU’s achievements to its mission-focused philosophy. “Northern Arizona University’s mission of providing a premier undergraduate education drives the entire institution,” he said. “At the same time, research and graduate studies drive the undergraduate mission as does our methods of distance delivery.”

Haeger showed a slide explaining the university’s place as a “high research” institution on a pyramid of classifications from the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

NAU is ranked among the top 4 percent of universities in the nation based on its research mission. Lower on the pyramid are institutions categorized as “doctorate, master’s, baccalaureate and other” at 55 percent of all institutions followed by associate’s colleges at 41 percent.

But Haeger said NAU is in a unique position to occupy more than one position in the Carnegie classification pyramid. “We’re a different institution,” he said, noting that NAU’s degree offerings from its community college partnerships and from NAU-Yuma and NAU-Yavapai provide a critical niche for students seeking baccalaureate degrees but not necessarily a full university experience.

The university also has partnerships with every community college in Maricopa County as well as counties throughout the state.

“Northern Arizona University is Arizona’s statewide university,” he said. “Probably very few universities in the country are operating an organization of this size from a base on a traditional campus.”

NAU’s performance goals have exceeded peer averages in eight of nine categories, including bachelor’s degrees produced, six-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time students, and diversity.

“We’re highly effective and efficient as an institution in baccalaureate education,” Haeger said.

The president’s presentation was met with high praise from the regents. “This was an outstanding presentation in terms of scope, content and responsiveness to what we were seeking as an institution-centric business review at a high level for a governing board,” said ABOR chair-elect Anne Mariucci. “In terms of a business review that links to your strategic plan, this is far and away the most meaningful one of the three.”  Regent Dennis DeConcini echoed Mariucci’s sentiment, saying “Very impressive.”

The president also explained NAU’s performance toward institutional goals set by ABOR for its 2020 Vision plan. By working with communities across the state, especially community colleges throughout Arizona, NAU is confident it will exceed ABOR targets.

“Clearly as an institution, to get to 2020 we have to maintain the rapid enrollment growth as well as improving university productivity,” he said. “Our future as an institution is being able to respond quickly to what the state identifies as its needs.”

Specific areas Haeger cited are health professions education, such as NAU’s proposed physician’s assistant major, and as well as increased training in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“As a public institution, if we want the state to support us in the way we think they should, we have to do what the state wants, not necessarily often what the campus wants to do.” He said NAU will continue to explore curriculum change.