Northern Arizona University has provided additional information regarding the upcoming academic year, which encompasses both a return to in-person instruction and the transition of a new university president.
José Luis Cruz, who is set to become Northern Arizona University’s first Latino president and 17th overall, visited the Flagstaff Mountain Campus for the first time as the president-designate Thursday.
Cruz was approved for the position by the Arizona Board of Regents on March 10, with an official start date of June 14.
Cruz began his visit Wednesday at the NAU Biomedical Campus in Phoenix before arriving at the Flagstaff campus for a two-day stay. While in Flagstaff, he plans to host meetings, roundtable discussions, media interviews, open office hours and go on campus tours.
In a letter to the NAU community, Cruz said he is focusing this initial visit on engaging with students before they begin preparing for finals.
Details have yet to be finalized regarding the subsequent two visits, but those will focus more heavily on faculty, staff and the Flagstaff community members. A full schedule of the first visit can be found online on the NAU presidential transition webpage, including information on how to schedule a meeting with Cruz during scheduled office hours.
Cruz met with the NAU Presidential Transition Commission on March 29, a group of representatives selected to provide insight into the beginning of his presidential tenure, and he said the commissioners that were appointed reflect the fabric of NAU.
“The diversity of thought, perspectives, lived experiences and aspirations they collectively bring to the work will position us well for what lies ahead,” Cruz said.
The commission members were announced in a release on March 22, comprising more than 30 individuals, including Flagstaff community members, stakeholders, university students, faculty members and administrative staff.
Among other participants, the commission includes: Kimberly Ott, associate vice president of NAU Communications; Rose Toehe, Flagstaff’s coordinator for Indigenous initiatives; Maya Guthrie, Black Student Union community service chair; Andrew Iacona, NAU interim sustainability manager; and NAU Faculty Senate President Gioia Woods.
The commission convened for the first time at the end of March and will continue to meet regularly until Cruz begins his tenure as president. In these meetings, the commission will look to “set the groundwork for the first six months of the presidency and prioritize how best to engage constituencies and stakeholders in a collaborative and inclusive process,” according to the release.
“The plan will be designed to build mutual trust with internal and external communities, and to ensure transparency and open communication during the transition and beyond, including providing frequent updates to our Lumberjack community and to key stakeholders,” Cruz said.
Cruz also issued an anonymous survey asking university students and staff for input on improving the institution, which was included in the release.
No tuition increases for NAU undergraduates
NAU does not plan to propose increased undergraduate tuition costs for the 2021-22 academic year, while the proposed graduate tuition rate will increase by 5%. The university also will not propose mandatory fee increases and will continue efforts to eliminate class fees.
“NAU is proposing no tuition increases for the majority of its students for the second year in a row, remaining mindful of the economic disruption students and families have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the release said.
NAU President Rita Cheng said setting tuition and fee priorities requires a “thoughtful balance between expanding program access and maintaining affordable options for students.”
The proposal retains the four-year pledge tuition guarantee for undergraduate students on the Flagstaff Mountain Campus. The Pledge program is in its 13th year and sets the rate for a second tuition-setting cycle at $11,896 -- accounting for both tuition and fees -- for incoming resident undergraduate students.
That program currently allows students to plan for the total cost of their undergraduate education, but Cheng said it will not be viable for the university in the future.
“Our ability to continue our Pledge program with zero increases cannot be a long-term strategy,” Cheng said. “Our overall tuition structure merits review but coming out of the pandemic was not the time for an adjustment.”
ABOR similarly announced on Friday, March 26, that none of the three state universities proposed increased undergraduate tuition rates for the upcoming academic year.
The regents will host a virtual public hearing on the proposals on Tuesday, and the university presidents, including Cheng, will present their proposals to the board on Thursday. The board is expected to vote April 15 on the proposals.
Regents President Larry Penley said recently that the stance taken by the university presidents reflects a commitment to ensuring that education is affordable despite the financial hardships placed on many students by the pandemic.
While NAU and the University of Arizona proposed no tuition increase for resident undergraduates, Arizona State University went even further by proposing no tuition increases for any current or incoming student, including undergraduates and graduate students.
Cheng said Gov. Doug Ducey's recent support could allow for critical program expansion at NAU to meet Arizona’s workforce needs. In January, Ducey proposed a $35 million budget to support the New Economic initiative's workforce development at public universities.
“Our university is a critical partner in guaranteeing Arizona has the talent pipeline to succeed in the state’s New Economy,” Cheng said.