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NAU dissolves college focused on freshman "success"

NAU dissolves college focused on freshman "success"

Old Main

Old Main on the NAU campus.

The University College at Northern Arizona University, whose primary aim was to increase freshman retention, was dissolved over the summer, and employees were divided into different departments, NAU officials said.

In an August letter to faculty and staff, NAU President Rita Cheng said, “University College was an effort to improve and better coordinate the first-year student experience. We recognize the value of a coordinated academic, student support, and advising program, and we worked over the summer to streamline efforts and strengthen our focus.”

In the letter, Cheng recognized the university’s goals, and said despite the dissolution of the college, the goals remain the same.

“As you know, we have aggressive goals to improve student retention and success, and we are confident this reorganization will help us meet our goals,” Cheng wrote. “We are also finding administrative efficiencies that can be reinvested into academic priorities. I ask that each of you help in this effort to provide each NAU student with a high quality experience. This is our mission, and I know we all share this passion.”

The 2016 freshman retention rate is 74 percent, up from 69 percent in 2009. The regents have set a goal for NAU of 80 percent by 2025, when the 6-year graduation rate is set at 57.5 percent. The current 6-year graduation rate is 52 percent.

NAU spokeswoman Kim Ott said no jobs have been lost in the process, but some vacancies have not been filled. Ott said the university is expecting some money to be saved due to the restructure. Ott confirmed no programs were cut in the process, all were moved to other areas throughout the university.

“Because one of NAU's paramount goals is the success of our students, we look at ways to be as efficient and effective as possible,” Ott said in an email. “We felt that the programs of University College, and thus NAU students, could be better served by strategically realigning the programs to increase their effectiveness. The reorganization also allowed us to reduce administrative costs and to reduce duplication.”

Ott said the former Dean of the University College, Cyndi Banks, was leaving the university, which created “an opportunity to reorganize.”

Ott said the university hired a national consultant to create a university-wide plan to examine current practices, including the former University College.

For employees of the former University College, the new school year has been mostly business as usual, minus a change in the chain of command.

Michael Caulkins, a professor who teaches a freshman year seminar class, formerly taught in the University College, but now teaches under the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“The transition worked differently for different people,” Caulkins said. “As far as we know, when the University College went away, the university still had to run all of the University College’s programs.”

Caulkins said University College faculty have been dispersed throughout the university, and he said he does not expect all the changes and adjustments to be finalized for a while. However, he said his duties have not changed.

“Most of it is the same,” he said. “My classes are the same, my students are the same and the course is the same.”

Programs oriented toward instructional innovation, like Caulkins’ class, now are under the supervision of the Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Cheng said in her letter. Programs focused on academic success, such as freshman advising, now fall under the responsibility of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.

The bachelor’s degree of University Studies and the Civic Engagement minor are now offered under the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Cheng said.

NAU requested to create the University College in November 2011, and the college began its work in 2012, according to Arizona Board of Regents documents.

At the time, NAU officials said the rationale for forming the college was to promote academic success in the first year of college.

“NAU has put in place a number of programs designed to promote student success, retention to the second year and graduation,” former Provost Liz Grobsmith wrote to the board at the time. “While these programs have been successful, first year courses are not strongly coordinated. The University College will provide strong direction, coordination with academic and other support programs, and robust protocols for assessment, to enable NAU to make further gains in student success.”

However, Ott said the creation of the college resulted in redundant efforts.

“University College was developed to coordinate and enhance programs, in several instances, what occurred was a duplication of efforts and this does not provide for effective student support, nor is it an efficient use of talent and resources,” Ott said in an email.

The reporter can be reached at or 556-2249.


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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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