Many areas of Arizona’s economy are seeing incredible growth. According to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, 10 major sectors added jobs last year – with the largest gains in education and health services (14,800 jobs) and construction (12,100 jobs). This success demands a bigger workforce – a workforce that is highly trained for the sustainable economy our state needs.
At Northern Arizona University, we are prepared to meet that challenge. The recent results of our accreditation process through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) signal a bright future for our university – one that offers our students increasing opportunities for educational and workplace success.
The NAU community has reason to be immensely proud of the notice of reaccreditation we received from the HLC. The strong results ensure NAU will remain a fully accredited university for another decade – the longest length of time for a university can be reaccredited. The confidence expressed in this reaccreditation emphasizes the quality of our university and our programs – programs that are possible because of the excellence of NAU’s faculty and staff.
The HLC’s report was based on five criteria: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery and application of knowledge; and engagement and service. The report praised the NAU team they met during a commission visit to campus, stating, “We were struck by the consistent positive attitude when we met with administration, staff, faculty and students at NAU. There is a tremendous amount of pride for the institution and a positive outlook on the potential future.”
NAU’s success led to a great HLC review and highlighted potential improvement in an area already on our radar: communication across all our campuses and programs. We will continue to focus on improved student learning, year-to-year retention and graduate rates even while we increase learning opportunities. We will continue to advance bold programs that are designed to be on pace with a changing dynamic in the workplace, advancements in technology and expanding opportunities.
Our move to multi-term enrollment is one example of our progress toward this goal. It allows students to register for the entire school year in advance, and it will improve year-to-year retention and graduation rates. This new system allows students to chart out their courses for completion and stay on track for graduation without concerns of course availability later. It removes the uncertainty of one-semester enrollment and increases student engagement by allowing us to better aid their progress toward their degree. Other universities that have implemented this system have seen great improvements and up to 90 percent retention. NAU’s freshman retention rate is currently 74 percent – above the national average of 71 percent and the Arizona average of 59 percent, but with room for improvement.
We cannot be satisfied with good when great is possible! Multi-term enrollment expands the NAU focus on a student-centered environment and allows us to better offer all students the opportunity for educational success.
I am proud of the praise NAU earned from the tough HLC review and inspired by the report’s recommendations for additional improvements. Our dedicated, student-centered approach allows us to prepare for our students’ needs and workforce demands, and our university will continue to grow as we lead our student and our state toward an educated and inspired workforce. FBN
By Rita Cheng
Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University.