NAU, statewide partners launch Arizona Attainment Alliance, to improve educational attainment and drive economic mobility in Arizona

Today, Northern Arizona University announced a new, first-of-its-kind partnership with all ten community college districts across the state and the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) to launch the Arizona Attainment Alliance (A++). This unique partnership aims to harness the collective impact of distinct institutions based on a shared desire to dramatically boost Arizona’s postsecondary attainment rate. A++ represents a new kind of student-centered postsecondary ecosystem, one based on collaboration across shared interests and priorities and the optimization of complementary assets in service to Arizonans.

Led by NAU, a leading engine of opportunity committed to powering access to a high-value education for students throughout Arizona, the initiative will aim to meet one of the state’s greatest challenges—low college-going rates and low college attainment.

A++ leverages a statewide footprint spanning all 15 Arizona counties to serve more than 322,000 students, including NAU’s more than 20 statewide sites and Arizona’s ten community college districts. By harnessing the collective capacity of partner institutions and organizations, A++ will be able to:

  • Boost the immediate college going rate of the state’s high school graduates.
  • Serve a growing proportion of adults with some college but no degree.
  • Exceed expected progression and graduation rates.
  • Increase the postgraduate value of the credentials that students earn.

“Despite having one of the fastest growing economies in the nation and serving as a hub for modern industry, Arizona’s associate, bachelor and graduate educational attainment rate lags well behind the national average,” said José Luis Cruz Rivera, President of Northern Arizona University. “This innovative coalition has a simple but transformative aspiration to dramatically boost statewide postsecondary attainment in areas that align with the high-demand, high-paying jobs that are fueling the new Arizona economy.”

A key partner in this endeavor is the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), the state’s leading economic development organization. Having ACA directly integrated will ensure workforce development opportunities are tightly connected to A++ member institutions and programs, strengthening the college and career ecosystem.

“With its focus on workforce outcomes and opportunities for traditional as well as adult learners, A++ represents a breakthrough academic approach,” said Sandra Watson, President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “By further aligning business development and skills training through this innovative model, A++ initiative is another important effort to advance Arizona’s workforce excellence.”

Although the state’s economy is booming and job growth is abundant, the new economy that Arizona is so effectively building disproportionately requires that the future workforce has some form of postsecondary credential. And yet, the state’s attainment rate sits well below the national average. The result is an annual shortage of more than 26,000 bachelor’s degrees—a staggering gap that compromises Arizona’s evolving economy. To prevent tremendous opportunities for economic mobility from being missed by countless Arizonans, A++ partner institutions and the ACA are committed to working together to spur more college attendance and completion and allow the people of the state to take full advantage of the opportunities that exist in their backyard.

“In his first year as president of NAU, Dr. José Luis Cruz Rivera has made the delivery of affordable and equitable postsecondary education central to his bold vision for a new NAU. Helios Education Foundation’s focus on college going and attainment align well with NAU’s priorities for increasing affordability and attainment rates,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation. “And, we look forward to our continued collaboration and partnership with Dr. Cruz Rivera and NAU to increase postsecondary attainment rates in Arizona.”

A++ will launch this fall with a year-long exploratory commission composed of representatives from NAU, the state’s ten community college districts, and the ACA. Over the following year, A++ partners will work together to develop a roadmap of measurable actions in keeping with the state’s Achieve60AZ goal. Together, representatives from NAU and the state’s community college districts will explore opportunities across the following areas, among others:

  • Cross-institutional approaches to strategic enrollment management and degree completions that maximize access and attainment.
  • Strategies to strengthen the K-12 to higher education pipeline, such as dual credit and pre-acceptance programs.
  • High-quality, seamless, career-driven academic pathways that could be made available through A++, starting at the certificate level and continuing through associate, bachelor, and graduate/advanced credential levels.
  • Cross-institutional shared services and technologies that provide seamless, high-quality student success, career advisement and transfer-pathway services.

“The opportunity A++ represents has resonated across the state with college leaders and business organizations who see an opportunity to cultivate talent and facilitate opportunity right here in Arizona,” Cruz Rivera said. “Development of A++ has garnered national attention as an innovation to watch in changing the landscape of attainment and modeling the possibilities for scale, impact, quality and value in a statewide educational ecosystem. By bringing together cross-sector partners with distinct identities, complementary strengths and a desire to better serve Arizonans, A++ represents a cutting-edge approach to redesigning higher education with an emphasis on economic mobility and postsecondary value.”

The launch of A++ has garnered attention from business and education leaders in Arizona, as well as national higher education organizations and policymakers, who have seen this work as a timely and unique partnership that will increase the value, impact, and accessibility of transformative postsecondary opportunities for students throughout the state.

Quotes from A++ members

  • NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera: “I am thrilled to share this next step in NAU’s efforts to be a preeminent engine of opportunity. This is truly a partnership, where our individual efforts are amplified through a system of collaborators across the state—my sincere thanks to our A++ partners, the Arizona Board of Regents, and the Arizona Commerce Authority. Together, our efforts will broaden access to an exceptional education for thousands of talented Arizonans.”
  • Lyndel Manson, Chair of the Arizona Board of Regents: “This is the right approach at the right time. NAU is the statewide access institution and A++ is poised to exponentially increase the number of pathways for students to have an opportunity to earn valuable credentials and achieve exceptional post-graduate outcomes. This is about scale, impact and quality being leveraged to meet one of our state’s greatest needs, and NAU’s bold vision and track record of success is exactly what we need to drive this forward.”
  • Jonathan S. Gagliardi, Vice President of Economic Mobility and Social Impact at NAU: “A++ represents an unprecedented opportunity to harmonize and integrate the educational and workforce ecosystems of Arizona by designing from the ground up a system of willing partners based on shared interests and complementary capabilities. Our mutual aspiration to create step-change-gains in upward economic and social mobility through cross-sector collaboration is based on a desire to deliver postsecondary value by better serving the people, communities, and economy of the state of Arizona.”
  • Maricopa Community Colleges Chancellor Steven Gonzales: “Maricopa is thrilled that NAU is leading the charge alongside the Maricopa Community Colleges to improve quality of life in through the A++ initiative. This unique partnership will increase the value and impact of our work enabling more of our students to realize pathways to a brighter future through the strength of our collective partnerships.”
  • Pima Community College Chancellor Lee Lambert: “We’re thrilled to work closely with NAU to develop new seamless pathways between education and workforce systems. With college-going and degree attainment rates significantly below the national average, this initiative has exciting potential to break down long-time barriers and create new models that make higher education more affordable and accessible to students and more relevant to our workforce partners.”
  • Daniel P. Corr, President of Arizona Western College: “The collaboration of our state’s community college districts with NAU to boost attainment is a crucial step in meeting Arizona’s clear need for high-quality, high value degrees to be attainable by students wherever they live and learn. A++ will build on NAU and AWC’s longstanding partnership and leverage our collective work in serving our students to remove barriers, create access to opportunity, and power prosperity in Yuma and La Paz Counties and beyond.”
  • Stacy Klippenstein, President of Mohave Community College: Mohave Community College is excited to join Northern Arizona University and many other agencies to create efforts aimed at increasing post-secondary attainment levels across Arizona. As a community college serving Northwest Arizona and a growing industry-rich economy, we know a trained workforce is a number one need.  Getting more involved in the education and training enterprise is paramount and this alliance will create the right environments and mechanisms to ensure we are meeting the needs of the individual students and industries we serve.
  • Northland Pioneer College President Chato Hazelbaker: “The A++ partnership, which brings Northland Pioneer College, NAU, and other statewide partners together to collaborate and build pathways to a better future for our students and communities, is unique. NPC is excited to part of this endeavor and to help drive attainment and prosperity in Navajo and Apache counties.
  • Cochise College President J.D. Rottweiler: “This is a pivotal moment for Cochise College. We are excited to collaborate and partner with NAU in the A++ initiative. Our partnership will strengthen the work we have been doing in support of the state’s Achieve60 initiative, provide a more attainable pathway to post-secondary education, and increase the accessible educational opportunities to the citizens of Cochise County.”
  • Yavapai College President Lisa Rhine: “At Yavapai College see this as another opportunity to positively impact the lives of our students, our local economies, and the future of our communities by expanding our educated and prepared workforce to be valuable contributors to the future financial viability of our state.”

Quotes from national higher education leaders and policymakers

  • U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal: “Our vision for college excellence is to ensure that students throughout the country are afforded opportunities to participate and complete valuable postsecondary credentials. We appreciate the work that’s taking place in Arizona in the A++ partnership, orchestrated by NAU, and the contribution toward a common goal of increasing attainment and transforming lives.”
  • Mildred García, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities: “NAU is a leader in the equitable value movement and their recent efforts to broaden access through Access2Excellence and pilot changes to admissions policies represent huge strides in equitably serving more students. With the launch of A++, NAU is again at the forefront of innovation by committing with a group of partners to better addressing the root cause of low college participation and completion rates through a system that’s accessible to all throughout the state of Arizona.”
  • John King, President of The Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education: “As important engines of opportunity, colleges and universities must ensure effective educational pathways that broaden participation in their programs and equip students for productive careers and civically engaged lives. The Arizona Attainment Alliance, launched by NAU and Arizona’s independent community college districts, exemplifies intentionality around increasing educational attainment so more Arizonans can benefit from and contribute to the state’s economic growth.”
  • Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor Emeritus of the State University of New York and director of the Power of Systems at the National Association of System Heads: “By leveraging a community of like-minded institutions and creating a system through which to scale their work, A++ represents an innovative approach to accelerating both access and attainment. We know the ‘Power of Systems’ is real when unaffiliated campuses begin to band together to make authentic, tangible change. NAU is taking best practices from institutions across the country and applying it in a way that is tailored for Arizona, in close partnership with government and the private sector. Collaboration is higher education’s best bet for accelerating postgraduate success.”
  • Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education: “I’m excited to see the work at NAU and the Arizona Attainment Alliance unfold. Looking across the nation, I haven’t seen an approach this innovative and moving this quickly. NAU and A++ is a place to watch that’s truly at the leading edge of delivering value from higher education to students and their communities.

Quotes from Arizona business and education leaders

  • Neil Giuliano, President and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership: “Arizona is a hub for business, but we’ve long needed to get more Arizonans educated and prepared to be a part of our growing knowledge economy and workforce. To have a group of education partners so focused on meeting the state’s workforce and attainment needs, in close collaboration with business development organizations, is a game-changer. The vision that NAU and A++ bring make me more optimistic than ever about the vitality and opportunity we have to build a strong and prosperous future for all Arizonans.”
  • Danny Seiden, President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry: “As Arizona continues to grow and attract businesses, improving postsecondary attainment and developing a prepared workforce have become increasingly urgent. Linking NAU, our state’s community college districts and the ACA represents the kind of collaboration Arizona needs to address our educational and economic challenges and ensure a more vibrant future for our state. I know our businesses will be excited to partner with A++ institutions as they support and enhance Arizona’s continued growth and competitiveness.”
  • Rich Nickel, President and CEO of Education Forward Arizona: “NAU’s work to boost attainment is a critical step in meeting our state’s Achieve60AZ attainment goal. As the champion for the attainment goal, the A++ initiative presents an opportunity to increase high-quality, high value degrees for students. Increasing attainment will ensure greater economic opportunities for our students and will strengthen our overall economy in Arizona.”

A++ partner organizations

NAU Communications