President Haeger optimistic as university moves toward ‘semi-public’ status

Northern Arizona University is reinventing itself as a semi-public institution amid record enrollment increases and diminishing state support, President John Haeger said during a public forum held this week at the High Country Conference Center.

More than 200 people attended the event to hear the president address how the university will mitigate the $30 million cut for FY2012, with nearly 700 more participants tuning in via live web stream.

The president said university budget reduction strategies currently under consideration are evaluation of changes to employee benefits, restructuring of class offerings and examination of programs, cost/benefit analysis of Extended Campus sites and additional employment of technology.

“There is a way to exist in this new funding model,” Haeger said. “As a semi-public institution, we can be more entrepreneurial. It can unleash huge potential, as we’ve already demonstrated.”

The use of technology has led to 90 separate actions taken to streamline processes at the university thus far, including eliminating paperwork and shifting business functions and course material delivery to the web.

The president also cited the university’s use of alternative revenue streams as a sound strategy to complete necessary fire and life safety renovations and construction of new facilities, a practice that enabled the campus to accommodate the ever-increasing student population. Several renovations including the Skydome and Liberal Arts building were funded through SPEED bonds, while the new Health and Learning Center was funded primarily through student-approved mandatory fees.

New ventures with public and private entities also played a role in the university keeping up with growth, Haeger said. He pointed to the university’s collaboration with the city of Flagstaff and Drury Hotels in creation of the High Country Conference Center, the NAU Foundation and Sodexo’s collaboration in the creation of the 1899 Bar and Grill and private donations that partially are funding the Native American Cultural Center.

NAU’s newest partnership with American Campus Communities includes a $65 million private investment in which the company will build and maintain two on-campus residence halls that will add accommodations for more than 1,100 students next year.

The president said the university will continue to explore partnerships with private investors and public agencies.

“We are an economic development agency for the community,” Haeger said. “And we can legitimately ask the community to continue to support us.”

Despite declines in state funding, Haeger said the Legislature is likely to exhibit more control by implementing performance-based funding. This may be measured by credit hour completion, number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, research funding attained, success in meeting the state’s economic development goals and the quality of education offered.

The president said the university will continue to focus on methods for increasing retention and graduation rates as it moves toward achieving the Arizona Board of Regents’ goals for 2020.

“In many ways, we have a challenge ahead of us and I would not like to minimize the difficulty of the budget cuts,” Haeger said. “But I remain very optimistic.”