University priorities maintain institution’s momentum


By John D. Haeger, President

At Northern Arizona University we started the academic year quickly with an increase in enrollment, new buildings on the horizon and bold initiatives in place.

At the onset of the spring, times are equally stirring.

I am sending this message for two reasons. The first is to thank you for your continued hard work in making Northern Arizona University as highly successful as it is. You are the reason students recognize the quality of Northern Arizona University, whether in Flagstaff or through our many sites throughout the state.

The second reason is to outline my priorities for the coming year.

Our many successes have propelled us forward, and we must sustain that momentum. As I’ve said before, standing still is falling behind.

Northern Arizona University’s Strategic Plan details the institution’s goals and priorities. Though there are many important items in the plan and on my agenda, there are two that I would like to pay special attention to:

  • access, accountability and accreditation
  • health professions and biosciences expansion

The governor and the Legislature have long made it known that access and accountability are vital in a state that is experiencing phenomenal growth. Concurrently, the state is experiencing severe shortages in health professionals.

The Arizona Board of Regents already has approved our plans to increase existing health professions programs, including the physical therapy program on the Flagstaff campus and expanding the doctorate in physical therapy in Phoenix. We also will extend our dental hygiene program to Phoenix and anticipate expanding the nursing program in Tucson, Prescott and Yuma.

The start of the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in collaboration with Arizona State University provides an exciting opportunity for Northern Arizona University.

The opening of TGen North in Flagstaff and my participation on the Northern Arizona Bioscience Steering Committee also demonstrates the importance of the biosciences to the institution, to northern Arizona and to the entire state’s economy.

It is clear that the future of our state’s economy will be science based. As a result, we will increase our efforts in the sciences. Northern Arizona University has recently opened an impressive $36 million laboratory facility on north campus and the Applied Research and Development building is scheduled to open later in the spring. Plans to construct a new building for our health professions programs are in the works.

At the same time, the regents approved the university’s budget request, which includes $4 million to establish potential new programs in occupational therapy, physician assistant, human biology and lab science technology. We also are looking at bringing our entry-level physical therapy program to Phoenix.

Our health professions plans have received support in Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposed budget, and at the end of January, I will be traveling to Phoenix to testify before the House and Senate budget committees, seeking legislative support for our proposals. The actual budget, a compromise between the governor and Legislature, is months away, but the university is off to a good start.

To further commit to the governor and Legislature’s requests for accessible and affordable higher education, Northern Arizona University plans to increase Distance Learning programs.

After talking to residents and potential students, we hope to offer additional programming in Yuma and Prescott, where we already have committed additional staffing. And soon we will finalize plans to open a new facility near north Interstate 17, where some of our health professions programs will be housed.

In the Valley, look for a new accelerated bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies that is designed specifically for working adults. It will be offered one night a week and on weekends. We also will be offering a bachelor’s in speech communication, a master’s in school counseling and another in community counseling.

Soon, we will offer a bachelor’s in early childhood education to prepare new teachers for pre-kindergarten through third grade—one of the governor’s priorities.

The governor, however, is asking for more than more programs. She is holding Northern Arizona University and other institutions accountable. And I agree with her.

Her executive budget includes a 3.5 percent salary increase and provides $4.7 million for student and faculty retention. The $4.7 million would be used to ensure smaller classes for freshmen taught by full-time faculty and to provide more access to advising. But the executive budget notes that the funding would be used to reward academic units based on their ability to increase student retention rates.

I have set a universitywide goal of retaining 73 percent of the students who move from freshman to sophomore. The fall 2006 retention rate was 71.8 percent.

Northern Arizona University is scheduled for a comprehensive review by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in the fall. The review is part of the institution’s process for accreditation, which is granted for ten years.

At the same time, the College of Education is in the process of seeking a new, highly valuable accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education that would give national recognition to our majors.

As these critical processes near completion, it is important to remember that accreditation validates the overall quality of our institution and shows faculty, staff, students, potential students, parents, alumni and friends that Northern Arizona University can be trusted to complete its mission.

Of course I have not spelled out many other goals, objectives and projects the university is working on, which include improvements to campus facilities, improvements to the Information Technology infrastructure, development of more math and science teachers for Arizona schools, advancing research and education in the biosciences, and increasing diversity in the student body as well as faculty and staff.

And that is only the beginning.

With your continued support, I see another rewarding semester.