NAU receives First Forward Designation, national honor for commitment to first-generation student success

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May 6, 2019

Northern Arizona University was selected as part of the inaugural cohort of First Forward Institutions, a designation that recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students, who make up almost a third of NAU’s student population.

The designation comes from the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, so I understand both first-generation college students’ commitment to education and the challenges they face in navigating higher education,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “I’m pleased to receive this designation, which gives us the opportunity to not only improve our offerings, but to help other universities support their first-generation students.”

NAU has a number of programs aimed toward helping first-generation students in ensuring they succeed in and out of the classroom, including advising, mentoring and some financial aid. Those include:

  • Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR), which allows incoming students to enroll in two classes the summer before their freshman year, giving them the opportunity to meet people, get used to on-campus living and access student clubs and advising in a less stressful atmosphere
  • First Scholars, which uses a Steps to Success framework to guide students through transitions, ensuring they’re getting the most out of college while preparing them to move into careers
  • Lumberjack Leadership Institute, a one-day conference offering networking, success strategies and workshops on topics like budgeting, healthy relationships, well-being, global leadership and more
  • Student Support Services, a program for first-year students that includes peer mentoring, workshops, advisers who can discuss academic skills, financial aid and navigating the system and a scholarship
  • Emergency Textbook Loan program, which assists students in getting textbooks

As a First Forward Institution, select faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer and aspirational institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to the First Forward Workshop to be held in Orlando in June and will participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the advisory leadership designation.

“The center is so pleased to welcome Northern Arizona University into our inaugural cohort of First Forward institutions,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident NAU is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future.”

To learn more about NAU’s first-generation efforts, visit To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit

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Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
(928) 523-8737 |