Dean Cronin's not your average undergraduate. He works full time, raises a family and attends classes at night.
He's earning his bachelor's degree in elementary education, and by the way things are going at Northern Arizona University's Payson campus, years could pass before Cronin dons a mortarboard.
"I started taking classes 10 years ago when it was run by EAC (Eastern Arizona College)," Cronin said. "I'm trying to support a family and I don't have another 10 years to get through my education."
The trouble started when NAU's distance learning program laid off Dr. Gary Moore, the part-time Payson campus program coordinator, Jan. 20.
Without Moore, the 34 NAU students enrolled at the campus, are left to navigate their educational careers on their own.
Although NAU has arranged for a once-a-week visit from a Scottsdale-based educational counselor, the decision to cut Moore's position could be the end of the Payson program, Cronin said.
"I can see it shriveling up and dying if there's nobody to help us along the path," he said. "Dr. Moore didn't have enough time to do what he had to do three days a week. How are you going to schedule 30 or 40 students with one person, one day a week?
A statement released by the university, Feb. 13 explained the decision, "With 34 students enrolled in classes in Payson for the current spring semester, there is no justification to continue a half-time administrative position."
And yet, Moore said the math doesn't add up. In January 2004, Moore said he was given the task of increasing full-time enrollment by 10 percent. He said in a year, he's far exceeded that quota.
Dr. Thomas Stultz, Payson Unified School District's educational coordinator, supported Moore's claims citing numbers taken from a statewide distance learning report.
Stultz pointed out that full-time enrollment increased 44 percent from fall 2003 to fall 2004.
"It doesn't make sense," Moore said. "They haven't given anybody a suitable explanation."
In fact, the same Feb. 13 statement, released by NAU President John Haeger and dean for distance learning, Fred Hurst, reported that rural programs, Payson in particular, have increased services and classes:
"Over the past five years, the university has expanded the degree and certificate programs available to Payson residents from a handful to 36 today."
For Cronin, that statement is cold comfort. As a student who lives in a remote location, works all day and goes to school at night, his options are limited if the program eventually shuts down, and without Moore, Cronin said his educational goals become increasingly difficult to fulfill.
"I'm probably going to have to try and find a university online to find the classes I need," he said. "It's been a struggle the whole time and what they're doing now is saying ‘We don't want you,' because they're cutting back services."
In a letter dated Jan. 25, Moore, armed with the figures, asked NAU and Hurst to clarify the decision to terminate his position.
When Moore's letter, which was sent with proof of delivery, went unanswered, he wrote a letter to Payson's education community for support.
"I asked (Hurst) to further clarify and elaborate his above decision as it is not consistent with the facts of Payson's growth ... Thus, to any reasonable person, the facts and information about the Payson Campus growth were either not available to him or there was another reason for the elimination of the position ... even a 20-hour-per week position was insufficient in meeting the Payson area needs."
As of press time, calls to NAU have gone unreturned.
Meanwhile, Moore's departure leaves some students puzzled, and Cronin said the decision to let Moore go could hurt NAU later on.
"We pay the same tuition as the people at NAU pay. We should be getting the same services," Cronin said. "Future students are going to look at what you have to go through to get a degree and they're just not going to do it."