Partnerships, innovation are key to next 5 years at NAU

Enrollment numbers have continued a record-breaking climb over the last five years as Arizona’s universities have tried to educate more students with the same dollars, NAU President John Haeger said during the Arizona Board of Regents’ regularly scheduled meeting this week in Flagstaff.

Speaking at the High Country Conference Center, Haeger presented NAU’s five-year strategic plan and discussed the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the university.

With $428 million in budget cuts to state funding since 2008, and $60 million of that from Northern Arizona University, Haeger said increasing tuition each year is not a solution for declining state support.

“We have to be more careful about raising tuition than at the other two universities because we have a much larger first-generation student population,” Haeger said. “And relying on enrollment growth is not a sustainable business practice so we have to be very careful how we manage our resources.”

Among the three state universities, Northern Arizona University has experienced the highest percentage of increases in the overall student population and in new transfer students from Arizona community colleges over the last five years.

Amid declining state support and a burgeoning student population, Haeger said the university would continue to identify alternate revenue streams to sustain long-term funding solutions and maintain the quality of education. He pointed to public-private partnerships with businesses and combination of resources with other higher education institutions such as NAU-YumaNAU-Yavapai and 2NAU programs at community colleges.

“Through our partnerships and commitment to distance learning, we have been providing affordability and accessibility throughout Arizona for many years,” Haeger said. “Our recent endeavor at NAU-Yavapai has been a significant innovation for the university and offers more opportunities for students and businesses in Prescott Valley.”

The president said the university’s projected enrollment increases for the Flagstaff campus as part of the regents’ 2020 goals, in which NAU is charged with doubling both its student population and annual research grant awards received in the next nine years, will require capital projects including renovation of aging structures and building new structures.

“If we continue to grow, we have to continue to build,” Haeger said.

During the meeting, the board approved several construction projects for NAU’s Flagstaff campus including renovations and new structures.

Construction will commence this summer on a new parking garage on San Francisco Street that will add 1,400 spaces to campus in the fall of 2012.

The university will move forward with upgrades of Ardrey Auditorium to address accessibility issues, fire safety system updates and interior modifications.

Two additional projects have received preliminary approval. Renovation design will move forward for the Fieldhouse, while the university will begin planning for additional laboratory and classroom space in a science and health building.

The board passed multiyear contract extensions for six of NAU’s athletics coaches.

The regents recognized the service of University of Arizona President Robert Shelton, who recently announced his departure from UA to serve as executive director of the Fiesta Bowl.

“In my capacity working with you, you’ve served with amazing integrity, distinction, pride for your university and pride for your state,” said ABOR chair Anne Mariucci.

The regents’ next regularly scheduled meeting is in August at Arizona State University in Tempe.