President introduces campus to plans that support higher ed

President's Forum
President's Forum
NAU President John Haeger, right, answers questions from a group of students in communication professor Astrid Sheil’s public relations class who attended his forum in Ashurst Auditorium last week. Photos by Danielle Borth

The NAU community heard a clarion call to support education in Arizona during a President’s Forum last week, featuring a sobering message about America’s flagging educational system and a bold plan to jump-start the state’s economy.

America is facing a quiet crisis in education, President John Haeger told about 275 people who packed Ashurst Auditorium on Thursday afternoon. It’s a crisis in which American students are falling behind the rest of the world in virtually every educational category.

“We’re not thinking about the students we have,” Haeger said. “We’re thinking about the students we don’t have.” The president was referring to the fact fewer than half of high school graduates qualify academically to enroll in public universities.

Haeger then showed a video that detailed the problem, from pre-kindergarten through higher education.

“Once a leader in every basic metric of educational performance, America has surrendered its leadership,” the video voice-over says. “And yet we sit back and fold our arms while other countries make massive investments to improve education for every qualified student.”

NAU has partnered with the Arizona Board of Regents and the other state universities to launch an awareness campaign—called Solutions through Higher Education—to make the public aware of the critical role higher education plays in ensuring economic prosperity.

Haeger also introduced a construction stimulus program that could keep Arizona from the grips of recession by pumping more than a billion dollars into the state’s economy and creating about 31,000 jobs during this current downturn. The program is framed around the capital needs of the state’s public universities and Arizona’s construction industry.

The plan proposes to invest $1.4 billion to revitalize decaying buildings at NAU, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University and to construct much-needed new facilities.

“You can cut your way of out a recession or you can spend your way out,” said Haeger, whose academic background is the history of economic change. “The university has enormous momentum right now, and we have to keep it going.”

At the same time, NAU is continuing to grapple with an anticipated state budget shortfall of more than $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year and $1.7 billion for FY09, which begins July 1.

However, Haeger noted that through strategic spending, including a hiring plan that addresses critical university needs and budget reduction guiding principles, the university’s budget is in “reasonably good shape” thanks to enrollment increases. He added that he anticipates continued enrollment increases in fall ’08.

At the beginning of the forum, the president listed several of the university accomplishments during the academic year.

The list of accomplishments includes reaccreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; LEED ratings for Applied Research and Development, The W.A. Franke College of Business and the Engineering building; the conference center opening; the hiring of the university’s first permanent vice president for Research; and significant grants that have been awarded to NAU.