President Rita Cheng addressed hundreds of NAU students, faculty, administration and Flagstaff community members in the university’s Fall 2018 Campus Forum Oct. 16. The ballroom at the Highland Country Conference Center was packed Tuesday afternoon as Cheng laid out where the university is currently as well as goals she has set to achieve.
NAU partnered with Gallup to conduct a poll among NAU graduates focusing on post-graduation success and how satisfied they were with their experience at the university.
“Almost 10,000 Lumberjacks responded, and the results are very encouraging,” said Cheng. “89 percent of NAU undergraduate alumni, and 91 percent of our postgraduate alumni say that if they had to choose again, they would still go to NAU for their degree.”
She went on to further emphasize NAU’s importance to Arizona and the contributions it makes, including helping with the Arizona Board of Regent’s (ABOR) goal of helping at least 60 percent of the state’s population obtain a college degree or certificate by the year 2030.
Cheng stated that currently there are 31,073 students attending the university, and 60 percent of them are Arizona residents. When it comes to Coconino County, 50 percent of households have at least one person with an NAU degree.
She explained that there were areas that NAU needed to improve in as well, including the first-year student retention rate, which dropped from 75.8 percent in Fall 2016 to 73.5 percent in Fall 2017.
The president also talked about NAU’s strategic plan, going into detail on 5 goals: student success and success, research and discovery, commitment to Native Americans, engagement and stewardship. While strides have been made in all five fields, Cheng still wanted the university to do more.
“Our commitment to Native American success has built a strong foundation for educational attainment, but we are not content with that. We want to build stronger ties and more connections so we can serve even more Native American students,” Cheng said.
The possibility of raises and more multi-year contracts for instructors and staff at NAU was also brought up. However, Cheng reminded the audience of the budget cuts imposed by state legislature were making it difficult to find money for raises.
Also, ABOR was the one dictating the number of multi-year contracts the university can create every year for employees. She explained, however, that every year she makes a request to ABOR to exceed the allotted number of contracts.
The forum ended with about a half-an-hour long question and answer session with Cheng and other NAU administrators —Daniel Okoli, vice president for capital planning and campus operations, chief information officer Steve Burrell, Bjorn Flugstad, vice president of finance, institutional planning and analysis, interim provost Brian Levin-Stankevich, Jane Kuhn, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs and vice president of research David Schultz.
Questions covered both light and serious topics, like why all of the buildings on campus have the numbers designated to them on the NAU’s official campus map to questions about raises for NAU employees who make less than the state's minimum wage.
Okoli remarked that he himself had asked the building number question and hoped to address it as well, while Kuhn explained that not every student worker at NAU was under minimum wage, with some even being paid as much as 20 dollars per hour and that employment at the university is also considered a part of student aid.
The issue of the sustainability director’s recent departure was also brought up, as the panel was asked if there were any immediate plans to hire someone to fill the position. Cheng challenged the university that sustainability was everyone’s responsibility.
As NAU continues to grow, Cheng and faculty continue to use events like this forum to reach out to both the university and the surrounding community for their input.