May 10, 2006 - Flagstaff may be more than four hours north of Tucson, but taking classes from its university may only be minutes away.
Northern Arizona University opened its second distance learning campus in Tucson May 1.
NAU-Tucson North campus, 3895 N. Business Park Drive, can be seen while driving on Interstate 10, just north of Prince Road.
For more than 30 years, NAU has offered distance-learning programs for non-traditional students. Classes are offered away from NAU's primary university in Flagstaff. There are more than 30 sites throughout Arizona where students can take NAU courses, said Fred Hurst, NAU's vice-president for extended programs.
"NAU has a long history of serving students at a distance," he said. "We've been doing it for decades."
NAU-Tucson North is a bit different than its other NAU Tucson campus, located on Pima Community College's Community Campus, 401 N. Bonita Ave.
NAU-Tucson North will offer onsite classrooms for Tucson students, offering primarily evening classes and some Web-based instruction, said Patricia Diaz, area coordinator for NAU Distance Learning in Tucson.
For more than eight years, NAU offered Tucson students courses relying primarily on local businesses and high schools to provide the meeting space. With the Tucson-North campus, that will no longer be an issue, Diaz said.
The campus will offer five large classrooms, a computer lab, registration and financial aid services as well as undergraduate and graduate advising.
"We're hoping we can reach the community," Diaz said.
NAU-Tucson North will provide education to undergraduate and graduate students. In order to enroll in the distance-learning program, students are asked to have already completed an associate's degree with a community college, Diaz said.
More than 1,000 students will be served by the new location. The new offices come at a time when demand is high and students are plentiful, she said.
"We opened up our new campus in response to a growth that we've experienced in the last couple of years," she said.
Within the past five years, course demand has dramatically increased in Tucson and the other distance learning sight could not keep up with it, Diaz said.
The Tucson-North campus will offer a variety of programs, she said, including business administration, hotel and restaurant management, criminal justice and elementary education.
In the fall, students will be able to register for a new program, one that will ultimately result in a bachelor's of arts in liberal studies degree.
"It's nice because it's not as specialized as some of the other programs," she said. "So when students don't fit into those specialized categories, this is one that fits in very well."
The typical distance learning student taking classes at NAU are those going back to school and are already established, some with families and who have been out in the real world, Diaz said.
That is why evening courses and online courses work so well for such a large number of students, she said.
However, undergraduate growth is growing steadily at NAU, causing a mix in traditional and non-traditional students, she said.
"I would say the majority of our students are the non-traditional students, who can't go to a traditional campus, such as the UA, because most classes are offered during the day," Diaz said. "(It's) the student who is working full time, who has a family and is transitioning and going back to school."
"This program has been set up to meet that market," she said.
Many local educational institutions are not meeting the needs of many Tucson students, Hurst said.
"We felt we needed to try to serve what we feel is a strong underserved need in the Tucson area," he said. "We have a quality product, a quality education experience and we're very flexible."
It costs $224 per credit hour for undergraduate students to enroll at NAU-Tucson campuses. It is $248 per credit hour for graduate courses.