NAU To Provide Free Tuition to Native Americans, Limit Aid to Other Races

February 13, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Northern Arizona University (NAU) will provide free tuition regardless of income to Native Americans from Arizona tribes but requires other races to fall below a certain financial threshold to qualify. NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera described the arrangement as a cornerstone for the university’s equity work. 

“Ensuring access to an affordable, high-quality education is a key part of NAU’s vision to deliver equitable postsecondary value,” stated Cruz Rivera.

This arrangement falls under NAU’s financial aid program “Access2Excellence” (A2E) which launched last April. However, the university didn’t offer this free tuition for Arizona tribal members until last November, after NAU’s Native American Advisory Board pushed for its creation.

Initially, A2E was intended to provide tuition-free college for all students, regardless of race, if their household incomes were at or below $65,000. When A2E launched last spring, approximately 50 percent of Arizona households met that threshold. 

NAU stated in a press release that the special free tuition offer for Native American students was part of its “strategic priority” to be the leading university serving Indigenous people nationwide. Ann Marie Chischilly, vice president of the Office for Native American Initiatives, said that this offering represented NAU’s commitment to prioritizing Native Americans.

“We are dedicated to being the nation’s leading institution serving the indigenous peoples and providing a clear and affordable pathway to an exceptional education,” said Chischilly.

Free tuition is one of the latest in NAU’s latest initiatives focused on uplifting Native Americans. In January, NAU pledged $10 million to prioritize Native American and Indigenous people in curriculum and recruitment efforts. 

Last March, NAU launched multiple initiatives totaling $1.3 million to increase the number of both Native American and Hispanic science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates. These initiatives focus on training STEM faculty in anti-racism, revising graduate admissions processes to increase inclusivity and diversity, creating additional supports exclusively for Indigenous and Hispanic students, offering exclusive campus opportunities for Indigenous and Hispanic students’ families.

Department of Biological Sciences professor Catherine Propper predicted that these initiatives would increase anti-racist educational practices in education beyond NAU.

“In this way, we can bring about equity-oriented change in STEM fields by building leadership among faculty to contribute to institutional change, eliminate structural barriers and reduce disproportionality and systemic inequities in STEM fields,” said Propper.

Cruz Rivera asserted that greater funding and research efforts for recruitment, training, and placement on Native American and Hispanic students was an equitable necessity to spur these groups’ economic mobility.

“Together, we can propel more low-income, first-generation students and students of color to the middle-class and beyond,” said Cruz Rivera. “Support for HSIs will pave the way for less inequality, more social mobility and broader economic prosperity in America.”

In June 2021, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) awarded NAU with $1 million to advance culturally responsive Native American pre-K-12 educators.

The A2E program goes into effect this fall. Those admitted to NAU for fall 2023 or spring 2024 semesters qualify.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

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