NAU nationally recognized for driving economic mobility and providing students a return on their educational investment

Students on campus

The average NAU student begins to achieve positive returns on their educational investment less than three years after graduating, according to the Third Way Economic Mobility Index. This ranks NAU in the top tier for economic mobility among all postsecondary institutions in the U.S. and underscores the university’s commitment to delivering equitable postsecondary value for its students, spurring lifelong success through its accessible, affordable and excellent academic programs.

“We are proud of our Tier 1 Economic Mobility Index ranking because it clearly demonstrates NAU’s commitment to providing equitable postsecondary value to the students we serve,” said NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera. “Across the country, many students and families question whether the cost of a college degree will ultimately pay off. Thanks to our efforts to broaden access, promote affordability, support students’ progression and deliver exceptional academic programs, NAU is among the best institutions in the nation at ensuring that students derive full value from their degrees and reap the lifelong economic benefits—beginning soon after graduation—made possible by postsecondary attainment.”

The Third Way Economic Mobility Index (EMI) helps students and their families understand the potential returns on investment of a postsecondary education. Unlike traditional rankings that are often focused on exclusivity, EMI ranks institutions based on their ability to propel upward economic mobility at scale. Institutions that rank highly on the EMI do so because they enroll large proportions of low- to moderate-income students and provide a quick return on investment, demonstrating a commitment to promoting access and delivering value.

Research shows substantial differences in lifetime earnings for students with a bachelor’s degree relative to a high school degree. For instance, Arizonans with a bachelor’s degree obtain nearly $800,000 more in lifetime earnings when compared to those with a high school diploma. According to a recent study by New America, three in four Americans believe individuals with undergraduate credentials have greater earnings from their employment and better access to jobs that pay a living wage. Unfortunately, affordability is perceived as a major barrier to attaining postsecondary credentials, particularly among low- to moderate-income students and families.

As one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S., Arizona has tremendous economic potential but lags behind national averages for postsecondary educational attainment. Nearly seven in 10 jobs in Arizona require more education than a high school degree, yet the state ranks 41st in postsecondary attainment. NAU’s commitment to serving as an engine of opportunity for Arizonans has led the university to prioritize efforts that enhance access opportunities and reduce cost barriers to postsecondary attainment. A Tier I EMI ranking is an important indicator that NAU is creating the conditions for meaningful economic mobility for the students it serves—not only because of higher lifetime earning potential, but also because the return on investment can be realized soon after graduating, making college an exceptional investment.

“NAU achieved significant ranking improvements in 2023, with graduates recouping the cost of their education and seeing positive financial returns less than three years after graduating,” said Julie Mueller, chief economic advisor to the president and professor of economics at NAU. “Looking ahead, NAU is poised to continue our momentum with the implementation of the Access2Excellence tuition commitment and other access and affordability initiatives. Recognition in Third Way’s EMI rankings make it clear NAU is delivering on its vision with tangible results that enhance the university’s value proposition and positive impact for the people and communities we serve in Arizona and beyond.”

NAU’s commitment to equitable postsecondary value is supported by several innovative initiatives to broaden access and increase affordability for Arizonans. These include the Access2Excellence tuition commitment, which launched this fall and guarantees zero out-of-pocket tuition expenses for students from families with a household income of $65,000 or below or who are members of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized Tribal Nations; the Admissions Pilot program, which aligns the university’s standards with Arizona high school graduation requirements; and the Arizona Attainment Alliance (A++), which strengthens pathways to attainment and postgraduate outcomes across NAU, the state’s 10 community college districts and the Arizona Commerce Authority.


NAU Communications