On Monday, President Rita Cheng welcomed everyone to the first cabinet meeting of 2019.
She shared recent and upcoming activities that she has or will be participating in on behalf of NAU, including the Foundation/Alumni Board meeting in Phoenix, welcoming a new superintendent at the State Board of Education meeting, the opening of the San Diego alumni chapter and many upcoming opportunities to present NAU to the Arizona Legislature.
President Cheng also reminded cabinet members that provost candidates will visit NAU the week of March 4.
The cabinet spent considerable time discussing the status of the budget. President Cheng started the discussion by thanking members of the team, including Vice President of Finance, Institutional Planning and Analysis Bjorn Flugstad and his team as well as the leaders of academic and non-academic departments, for making adjustments in their budgets. Of the $10 million difference between what was budgeted in tuition and fee revenue and actual revenue driven by retention, enrollment and mix of student enrollment, non-academic units have been asked to adjust their original budgets by $2 million, academic units by $3.5 million, with benefit savings, central campus reserves and other revenue sources making up the difference.
She encouraged leaders to be open with their staff. “We aren’t asking for anything back, but instead, not to spend,” she said. “I think this has been a really great collaborative effort.” She said Flugstad would continue to monitor the budget as we proceed throughout the rest of the year.
In her report, Chief Institutional Data Officer Laura Jones went over admissions applications data for the spring semester; numbers were up for first-year freshmen, graduate students and international transfer students and down for transfer students, international freshmen and international graduate students.
Another observation was a drop in NAU’s nursing program enrollment. Lynda Ransdell, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, explained how changes at the community college level have affected enrollment in NAU’s RN-to-BSN program. Previously, community college students could pick several programs to transfer to after completing their associate’s degree, but this year they required students to choose one university. This caused a significant drop in enrollment to both NAU and ASU, she said. A change in admission criteria to these programs also reduced enrollment, although that has been rectified.
NAU Online & Innovative Educational Initiatives Dean Meredith Curley talked about the efforts her team was making to increase online enrollment, particularly in Personalized Learning; those efforts include providing recruiting resources beyond faculty members, better partnerships with academic colleges and the provost’s office and raising awareness of NAU’s programs.
“This is a dynamic, competitive, sophisticated market we’re operating in, and we need a combination of awareness of our programs and making sure we’re meeting students where they are so they’ll say yes to us first,” she said.
Curley also noted recent increases in ongoing subscriptions for Personalized Learning programs that are helping to build the program.
Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Chitwood, whose team has been instrumental in much of those efforts, said they are focusing on the best ways and audiences for marketing, as well as the unique needs of online programs. She noted the website had more traffic in December than ever, which bucks the typical seasonal trends.
President Cheng also noted that 153 of the 220 students being served statewide by the Teachers Academy, a program implemented at the request of Gov. Doug Ducey that allows education students to earn a teaching degree debt-free, are at NAU. NAU cannot continue to grow that program without having financial support from the state.
Interim Provost Brian Levin-Stankevich discussed the various efforts being made to increase retention, with a focus on organizational linkage, development needs, improved pedagogy and reducing the rate of DFWs—classes that students drop, fail or withdraw from. That’s a long-standing, widespread problem, he said. “It’s not only an issue at NAU,” he said. “This is part of a national issue related to changing demographics and the preparation of students.”
His team also is working with EMSA to fine-tune various first-year programs and address different constituencies within the freshman class, as well as streamlining multi-term enrollment. A student experience task force is working to identify and eliminate process obstacles to create a seamless and positive experience.
President Cheng said this has served as a wake-up call and that she is confident that current efforts will result in positive growth in enrollments in the future. She thanked everyone who is engaged in this important work.
In other areas of revenue, Vice President for Research David Schultz said NAU has about a 33 percent success rate in the proposals researchers submit, which he said was tremendous, considering most agencies fund about three percent of the proposals they get. Between new and ongoing awards, the university gets about $60 million a year in grant money for research and public service.
Vice President for Development and Alumni Engagement Rickey McCurry introduced NAU’s Giving Day campaign to the cabinet. Development director Beth Hickey, director of alumni engagement Stephanie Smith and development coordinator Megan Gray shared specifics of this important program. The inaugural Giving Day is May 1, and the committee has a goal of 500 donors, including employees, alumni, parents, community members and friends of the university. In addition to fundraising, the goal is to get people excited to give to NAU. “We want to make sure that giving here at NAU, especially on Giving Day, is fun,” Smith said. “Giving should really inspire pride here at NAU.”
Vice President for External Affairs and Partnerships Christy Farley said NAU has some exciting agenda items at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting, happening later this week at Arizona State. The board will vote on three new Ph.D. programs for the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences, which was created less than a year ago to help NAU better meet the demand of these cutting-edge industries. ABOR also will vote on NAU’s sale of a piece of property on south campus to the Arizona Department of Transportation. In addition to improving traffic patterns around the I-17 interchange, a new sidewalk will be put in that will benefit students walking to campus from McConnell Drive.
Wendy Swartz, associate vice president for financial services, reminded cabinet members about the job information questionnaire and activity assessment that went out to hundreds of staff members on Monday and asked them to ensure their employees who received the surveys fill them out. These surveys are part of NAU’s Organization Growth and Effectiveness Initiative.
Dan Okoli, vice president for capital planning and campus operations, updated the cabinet on the state of Target shopping carts on campus. For years, his team has rounded up the carts and returned them to vendors; they are now working with stores that are close to campus to have the owners collect the carts.