Northern Arizona University has entered into a formal partnership to offer additional higher education opportunities for Native American students.

A memorandum of understanding was signed this week by NAU President Rita Cheng and Diné College President Martin Ahumada, outlining agreements for academic programming, faculty collaboration and student success initiatives.

Diné College is the country’s first tribal college and the partnership will encourage more Native American students to earn baccalaureate and master’s degrees. Beyond facilitating transfer to NAU from Diné College, interdisciplinary teams from both institutions will collaborate to further improve services, educational programs and the culture of respect and acceptance among people.

“NAU is close geographically but also culturally, philosophically and programmatically,” said Ahumada, who noted that the missions of NAU and Diné College share many similarities.

For graduate students, NAU is first in the country for awarding education master’s degrees and second in awarding master’s degrees in all disciplines. In undergraduate programs, NAU is fourth in bachelor’s in health professions and related programs and ninth overall.

NAU President Rita Cheng, Diné College President Martin Ahumada, Theresa Hatatulie, Diné Board of Regents, Aaron Lee, Diné Board of Regents, NAU's Chad Hamill and Greg Bigman, Diné College Board of Regents.

NAU President Rita Cheng, Diné College President Martin Ahumada. Back row: Theresa Hatatulie, Diné Board of Regents, Aaron Lee, student representative, Diné Board of Regents, NAU’s Chad Hamill and Greg Bigman, Diné College Board of Regents.

Chad Hamill, the NAU president’s special assistant on Native American Affairs, said the agreement was eight years in the making and provides a groundwork of possibilities for the institutions, as NAU works to further improve its offerings to Native American students.

The memorandum of understanding between NAU and Diné College was signed at the Native American Cultural Center Monday, Feb. 29. Numerous dignitaries attended the signing ceremony, including members of the Diné College Board of Regents and the college executive team.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved the memorandum of understanding Jan. 15.