Equitable Tuition Program Favoring Native Americans Boosted NAU Enrollment

September 2, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Northern Arizona University (NAU) is crediting their largest first-year undergraduate class ever to its equitable tuition program favoring Native American students. NAU reported a 47 percent increase in new Native American undergraduate students, its largest ever.

As AZ Free News reported in February, the tuition program provides free tuition regardless of family income to Native Americans from Arizona’s 22 federally-recognized tribes but requires students of all other races to fall below a certain financial threshold to qualify.

In a press release issued on Monday, NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera said the admissions boost afforded by the tuition program reflected the university’s ability to spur economic and social mobility. 

“The accomplishments and backgrounds of our fall 2023 entering class demonstrates the life-changing opportunity for upward economic and social mobility that NAU’s exceptional academic programs offer, and I am pleased to see so many Arizonans from all walks of life entrust their educational futures to this great university,” said Cruz Rivera.

The program falls under the university’s financial aid program, Access2Excellence (A2E), which launched last April and initially was designed to only provide free tuition for Arizona residents with a household income below $65,000. It wasn’t until last November that the special exception for Native Americans from Arizona tribes came, at the behest of NAU’s Native American Advisory Board. 

Cruz Rivera announced the special exception to the program during Native American Heritage Month.

At the time, the university explained the program’s special attention to Native American students was part of a “strategic priority” for serving Indigenous people nationwide. The vice president of the Office for Native American Initiatives, Ann Marie Chischilly, confirmed this equity focus for the free tuition program. 

“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.

This fall’s undergraduate class also represented NAU’s largest number of Arizona resident students and Hispanic or Latino students. 

The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) praised the success of NAU’s free tuition program. 

ABOR also highlighted the program in their latest annual report, released last week, as well as NAU’s $5 million pledge to prioritize indigenous people in curriculum and recruitment. The university’s pledge matches the $5 million from the Mellon Foundation.

According to NAU’s fall 2022 enrollment data, there were approximately 1,500 students identifying as American Indian or Alaskan Native.

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

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