Northern Arizona University President

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NAU President John Haeger describes what NAU is doing to respond to some of the challenges facing higher education.

Ted Simons: An educated workforce is often cited as one of the most critical keys to Arizona's long-term economic success. But in recent years the state's public universities have been asked to produce more bachelor's degrees with fewer state dollars. Here to talk about some of the creative ways Northern Arizona University has responded to that and other challenges facing higher education is NAU President John Haeger. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

John Haeger: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the funding business and how you're handling things up there, you're down here because you've gotten this Phoenix biomedical campus collaboration with the U. of. A. Talk to us about that.

John Haeger: It's a very important collaboration with University of Arizona. Several years ago Northern Arizona University saw a new niche, which is what used to be called allied health programs. We were convinced the state was in desperate need of many of these allied health programs. We have slowly begun to build that as an area of real focus for the university. We're moving to the Phoenix biomedical campus, two programs to start with. One a physician's assistant program and the second a physical therapy program which will be up and running by fall of 2012.

Ted Simons: Some of these students will take what they have learned, get these classes in and go back to their smaller towns? It's focused on smaller town kids right?

John Haeger: It really is focused on rural Arizona. Our hope that is then many of those students go back to their local communities.

Ted Simons: How many students a couple dozen?

John Haeger: We'll start with probably 24, 25.

Ted Simons: Yeah, all right. NAU, budget concerns. We just heard from the governor and she says Arizona is in a good place and she's optimistic for the future. Are universities optimistic for the future?

John Haeger: Actually I think the answer, in terms of NAU, we're very optimistic about the future. I think our challenge is actually pretty simple. One, we will have more students, fewer dollars, we will have fewer faculty per student. But we need to produce the same quality. What's happening is it's going to change the nature of how we deliver academic programs. But I think that's a positive and I think we know how to work through this.

Ted Simons: An example of changing the way academic programs are delivered.

John Haeger: One example right now, we're very thankful to the governor because she has mentioned it in her budget. We know for example we don't perform well in teaching mathematics to freshman students. The failure rates are very high. So if we continue teaching in sections with individual faculty members, nothing will change. So what we're going to do is begin a math emporium in which the students really get a lot of the content off the web on the computer, and then faculty are there to help them when they run into trouble. If you don't run into trouble, don't need to repeat things, classes will be offered in five- to six-week segments. It completely changes the delivery system because the technology is available now to allow us to do this.
Ted Simons: Is that something that would have been there, regardless of budget cuts to the university? The bottom line to that question is, has creative destruction been good in some ways for NAU?

John Haeger: I think the answer to that question is yes. There are certain areas we would not have moved as fast and aggressively to solve some of these problems unless we were absolutely forced to.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Tuition increases. You seeing it? How much?

John Haeger: An exact amount we're not there yet. This will be the year where we moderate tuition increases. Two points about NAU, we have a pledge program. 94% of our students on the Flagstaff campus will see no increase at all because they are on the pledge program. Incoming students, freshmen, likely will see somewhere between two and 4% but no higher than that. In all of our extended campuses, we are looking probably at 3%.

Ted Simons: Okay. The one-cent sales tax, the implication was that it was going to help education, K-12 education. Have you seen any money from that, are you expecting to see any money from that temporary sales tax?

John Haeger: I think in this budget year the Governor has made some commitments to reinvest in the Arizona University. Which moneys are these? I don't know. But the fact that the state realizes we have to good in to rebuild a bit is a real positive sign.

Ted Simons: What about performance based funding? I know that that's been talked about the plan of the fiscal year 14 something along those lines, what do you think of that whole idea?

John Haeger: Actually in some ways I think it's long overdue. For universities to be held accountable for producing more baccalaureate degrees, for universities to be held accountable for producing degrees in the fields needed by the same, for us to be accountable to the concession of our students is actually real positive. Many states are moving in this direction. The board of regents has been interested in it and my college of presidents are very committed to it.

Ted Simons: Alright, and very quickly, how would that work?

John Haeger: An example of some things that would be looked at, we have a problem retaining freshmen from freshman year to sophomore year. The percentage now is about 71%. Nobody benefits by a student who drops out because they don't complete courses or because they fail courses. We have to step in and say, to faculty and to students, we're very interested in your success, and they will count courses completed. They will count number of baccalaureate degrees in key fields, like the stem fields.
Ted Simons: That's performance based funding.
John Haeger: It is performance based funding and it will change institutional culture.

Ted Simons: Last question: You're down here, you will be speaking in front of the legislature tomorrow, correct?

John Haeger: Yes.

Ted Simons: What would you be telling lawmakers? The governor was just here. What do you want the governor to hear? What do lawmakers need to know about university funding, where we go from here?

John Haeger: I think the most important message we'll try to get across to the legislature. They have been extremely responsive and have handled the budget cuts in ways in which the quality of our degrees are as high as when we went into this recession. Your term creative destruction, what's had to happen at universities is we've made real cuts and changed delivery systems. In some ways NAU is perhaps a stronger university today than it was in 2008.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to see you, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.

John Haeger:NAU President;

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