University College: A good idea for a good reason

John Haeger

By John D. Haeger, President

Earlier this week, we formally celebrated the launch of NAU’s University College. It was a well-deserved moment of acknowledgement for all those who have worked so hard to bring not just curricular change at the first-year level, but also a culture change.

The idea had been floating around for several years, but a confluence of forces compelled us to make some fundamental changes at the institutional level and bring the concept to fruition.

At the very foundation, what propelled the notion of a University College forward was a pressing national and state agenda. Essentially, if students are to be successful in the 21st century economy, then they likely will need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Certainly, that means getting more students into universities, but it also means making sure that the universities retain students at a higher level from their freshman to sophomore years, and from there to help them graduate on time.

Doing so is a huge challenge. Here at NAU we recognized the need to improve our retention rates and we were taking steps to do so.

But we received a little extra push from the Arizona legislature and the Arizona Board of Regents. Once they linked our funding to performance metrics—such as number of student credit hours completed and number of baccalaureate degrees granted—it became clear that we needed to change the very culture of how we approached the freshman year if we were to be successful.

Some of the groundwork we had done, which is now folded into University College, showed that we could improve freshman retention. That our current rate has risen to 76 percent is a compliment to our faculty and staff.

Part of the shift is to understand and accept our collective responsibility for student success. I know from my own years of teaching that the change in perspective is a crucial one.

We no longer simply say that it’s all up to the student. Instead, we now take on the challenge of teaching students effectively, even though many of them may not be quite ready for the university experience.

A powerful tool in this effort is technology. It’s not the only answer, but using technology well—such as in our new Lumberjack Mathematics Center—is an advantage that can help us move forward.

We should all be proud of the fact that the University College has become a reality and that we’ve already demonstrated that it really can work to meet our goals.

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