By Corinne Murdock |
Last Wednesday, Northern Arizona University (NAU) announced that it would grant free tuition to Arizonans with household incomes at or below $65,000 — about half of Arizona households qualify.
Free tuition came from NAU’s Access2Excellence (A2E) initiative to increase enrollment. NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera explained in a press release that this latest development aligned with broader operational goals: access and equity.
“Affordability of college is top of mind for many, and this program ensures that tuition is not a barrier,” said Cruz Rivera. “It’s the embodiment of our university’s commitment to excellence and delivering equitable postsecondary value to all our students.”
NAU’s enrollment has been in steep decline over the years. Last fall, their total enrollment was over 28,700 students. The latest numbers mark a steady declining trend over the past three years: in fall 2020, they had over 29,500 students enrolled; in fall 2019, over 30,700 students enrolled; and in fall 2018, over 31,000 students enrolled. Prior to the last three years, NAU had grown steadily in its enrollment for over a decade. Their campus went from just over 20,500 students enrolled in 2006 to over 31,000 in 2017.
The Biden Administration likely spurred the free tuition initiative. In January, the Department of Education awarded $4.8 million to NAU for low-income students and low-wage or unemployed workers to achieve higher education.
According to a report from Pew Research Center last month, $65,000 would fall around the middle of middle-class income for a single individual: about $30,000 to $90,000. For households of five, middle-class income would range from over $67,000 to over $201,000.
NAU’s free tuition announcement came several weeks after the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) announced tuition and housing hikes at all three of Arizona’s public universities. NAU, along with Arizona State University (ASU), also announced an increase in its student meal plan costs — something University of Arizona (UArizona) didn’t do.
Under the ABOR changes, NAU students received a 3.5 percent tuition increase: around $11,000 to nearly $11,400. The increased tuition applied to both state residents and non-residents equally. Additionally, they will face an 3 to 3.5 percent increase in housing costs, along with additional course fees.
In March, NAU guaranteed that it would admit individuals that meet Arizona high school graduation requirements with a 3.0 or higher GPA.
The free tuition opportunity will take effect next fall. Housing costs won’t be covered.