A university on the move: Productivity, accountability part of president’s plans for progress

President John Haeger spelled out several goals that will continue Northern Arizona University’s progress while dealing with a cut in the institution’s overall budget.

With the objective of increasing the number of baccalaureate degrees, Haeger also called for increased productivity and accountability while raising the level of educational and research excellence and engagement with the community.

“We need to develop a system of higher education linked to K-12 and community colleges that will produce bachelor’s degrees needed for our future,” Haeger said. The university’s concerns extend well beyond NAU into national and state issues, he said.

Haeger spelled out his goals and other NAU successes and challenges during a campus forum Thursday in front of nearly 250 people at the High Country Conference Center. The forum also was web cast to include statewide campuses.

Haeger emphasized the need for productivity and accountability in NAU’s quest to reach its goals.

“We are going to be evaluated with real metrics, and we must educate more students at less cost-and faster,” he said. “We will have to fundamentally change the way we do business and how we help our students.”

One way, he said, is to drastically increase retention rates. “When your retention rate is only 70 percent between the freshman and sophomore year, you’re not going to make progress,” he said. “We have to move toward 80 to 85 percent.”

The university already has a headstart with its Finish in Four Program, guaranteed tuition and its groundbreaking relationships with community colleges across Arizona.

He specifically cited the CCC2NAU program, which eases community college students’ path to a baccalaureate degree by automatically enrolling them at NAU and providing other benefits.

“The notion that a student spends two years at a community college and has an ‘ah-ha’ moment where he might, might go to a university must change,” Haeger said. “Why not just offer joint enrollment from the start. Both CCC and NAU are committed to baccalaureate degrees, and I think this program can be expanded across the state.”

CCC President Leah Bornstein attended the forum and joined Haeger in praising the new CCC2NAU program. “This could become a national model for joint admissions projects,” she said, adding that 50 students—double the expectation—have signed up for the program.

Haeger also pointed to the need to change student behavior, ensuring that they graduate in four years, saving money and improving university productivity.

Yet he emphasized that increases in productivity must maintain educational quality.

The university is trying to attain these goals while managing a $7.8 million budget cut. But the good news is that state funding the university received for enrollment growth totaled $6.5 million—resulting in a net budget reduction of $1.3 million.

While the budget cut is manageable, Haeger noted the university also must reinvest about $7.2 million in strategic priorities, including staffing and resource needs related to enrollment growth, targeted salary adjustments to address critical market and equity issues, faculty promotions, minimum wage increases, graduate assistant waivers and increases in utilities.

Furthermore, the university must plan for a potential mid-year budget cut of about $1.5 million.

All totaled, the university requires about $10 million to handle this year’s budget cut, reinvestment needs and possible budget rescission in January.

Haeger outlined the sources of the needed funds:

  • $4 million in tuition revenue
  • $3.3 million in cuts to state budgets of non-college units and holdback of one-time allocation of operating dollars to colleges
  • $2 million from one-time use of health program funds (The university will not expend its entire allocation for expanding health professions programs in 2008-09, but these funds will need to be budgeted for the 2009-10 fiscal year.)
  • $1 million from local and auxiliary accounts (i.e., self-funded operations as Residence Life and Dining Services)

“We must keep our forward momentum,” Haeger said. “The economy will come out of its slowdown, and we will come out a stronger institution.”

Also during the forum, Haeger called for the campus community to lend its voice to the Solutions Through Higher Education campaign, a statewide initiative to make residents aware of the critical role higher education plays in ensuring economic prosperity for the country and its citizens.