Academic journal article Education

Building Outreach Partnerships for Northern Arizona University's Second Century

Academic journal article Education

Building Outreach Partnerships for Northern Arizona University's Second Century

Article excerpt

Northern Arizona University (NAU) will celebrate its centennial just before the new millennium begins. Established as a normal school in 1899, NAU has its roots in a continuing partnership with educators and students that has been a key component of its first century of teaching, research and outreach. As we look to the next century, that partnership will continue to be a cornerstone of the NAU mission.

Under the leadership of President Clara R. Lovett, NAU has engaged in significant review processes of the university's mission and distance education outreach. Among the goals in NAU's Mission Statement are two that bear directly on NAU's partnership developments:

* To be recognized as a national leader in partnerships with community colleges and K-12 education.

* To be recognized as a national and international leader in the application of distance learning technologies.

NAU is charged by the Arizona Board of Regents with the responsibility to provide higher education throughout Arizona, with emphasis on the rural areas. As part of that mission, NAU has long been involved in distance education outreach. Building on its long history of on-site course delivery in many locations across Arizona, NAU established a statewide, fully two-way interactive broadcast quality television system, NAUNet. As many as 75 courses are delivered on NAUNet each semester. The system was built in partnership with a major telecommunications provider, and serves as one example of the importance of partnerships to NAU's future.

Defining partnerships in the higher education milieu is a task made increasingly complex by the nature of a competitive economic environment, evolving constituent and client communities, the demands of the information age, and changing roles and profiles of faculty and staff. These characteristics also are highly interrelated. Our strategic planning environment is dynamic - we seem to have a constantly increasing number of "moving parts."

Our competitive economic environment has assumed several important dimensions. With increasing frequency, we are told that state higher education will transition from "state-supported" to "state-assisted" institutions - at best we will likely experience flat-line support from traditional sources. Linked to that change is the rapid entry of new providers into the higher education marketplace. A recent study by Lee Alley at the University of Wisconsin system noted 66 "for-credit" distance education providers whose course and programs are available through distance education sources, many of which are private education companies created to take advantage of new technologies and markets. Of those 66, 59 employ the Internet for distribution. These and other changes have led higher education writers such as Dolence and Norris (1995) to assert that the number of higher education institutions will decrease significantly in the next decades.

The profiles of our student community have likewise changed in the last few decades. The "traditional" student, aged 18-24, who attended a residential campus and completed a degree in four-five years, forms a very important but smaller percentage of the students we serve. "Non-traditional" students, adults of all ages and backgrounds, seek university education to meet a variety of career and personal educational needs. In many cases, this group of students is seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree. But increasingly, there will be a need for new certification and credentialing programs that address specific (and often "just-in-time") competencies that students need for their career pathways.

Information technologies are a driver for much of this change. The changes we are experiencing through information technologies are obvious and compelling. In 1983 in his widely read Academic Strategy: The Management Revolution in American Higher Education, George Keller noted: "The rapid growth of electronic technology in the past two decades presents universities with the firm major transformation in the transmission and storage of ideas and information since the introduction of printing in the fifteenth century . …

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