Notes from the President: March 28, 2024

Dear Lumberjacks,

Spring break is behind us and only a few weeks remain in the Spring 2024 semester at NAU. Before jumping into my notes for the past few weeks, I wanted to share a little more about a highlight from earlier this week. Tuesday marked the 2024 edition of the Showcase of Strategies for Student Success, where members of our university community came together to share impactful, evidence-based strategies for promoting the success of all NAU students.

The showcase traces its origins to 2002, and from its earliest editions the event has affirmed that NAU’s foremost priority is the success of our students. While preparing for my introductory remarks, I was able to look back through some historical abstracts from past editions, and what stood out is the broad range of staff and faculty participants, who, no matter where they are situated in their role or department, can see themselves and their work as playing an important role in student success.

In my remarks to the attendees, I reflected on my own experiences championing student success, including the interesting journey I’ve had returning to the classroom this spring and how I’ve relied on the support of many at NAU to be successful—First Year Seminars, electrical engineering faculty, instructional designers, librarians, OER experts, and our students themselves. Together, these colleagues have helped me sharpen and adapt my own approach to meet the students of today with the information, high expectations, and tools for success in the classroom. Following my remarks, I visited the many posters and learned more about the depth and breadth of exceptional work taking place and reflected on the tremendous potential this university has to not only aspire to be a preeminent engine of opportunity at the forefront of student success, but truly realize that vision.

I charged our university community at Convocation last August and in messages about academic momentum and student success in the fall to redouble our all-hands efforts to propel our students to learn, grow, retain, and graduate—allowing them to realize the life-changing value of an NAU education. I knew the work ahead would be hard, but listening to each poster presentation at the showcase showed me yet again that the faculty and staff at this university are ready.

So, in reflecting on this, I want to restate the goals from the fall—not because we are chasing them as a stat or a ranking, but because they are indicators that our work is having a measurable impact as we pursue our mission to deliver equitable postsecondary value:

  • First-year retention rate: Increase our first-year, full-time retention rate to 80% over the next three years and to 86% within the next six years. This will bring NAU into alignment with peer institutions in the short term and our sister institutions in the longer term.
  • Six-year graduation rate: Increase our six-year graduation rate to 67% over the next six years. This will bring NAU into alignment with our sister institutions, place us in the top tier of our peer institutions, and deliver on our vision as a vehicle of economic mobility and driver of social impact.

What was shared at the showcase gives me confidence. Our culture of and commitment to student success runs deep, and I look forward to the continued contributions of all Lumberjacks to ensure we are following the evidence, putting in the work, ensuring equity and excellence, and doing all of this at scale for the benefit of our students.

On that note, below are my notes from the past few weeks:

  • Just before spring break, I visited the Flagstaff Leadership Program alongside the president of Coconino Community College, where we shared with these aspiring leaders and engaged citizens of Flagstaff about our work as educational leaders in the community. I also welcomed leaders from the Flinn Foundation—strong supporters of NAU’s scholarly endeavors—to campus and enjoyed discussing the potential for collaboration and partnership between our organizations.
  • Spring break itself was a quieter week—largely because of the slowdown of email traffic in my inbox! Most business was conducted via Zoom, including the Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Council meeting for most of the day Monday and the Aspen-AASCU Transfer Intensive program on Thursday. For the transfer intensive, NAU and our partners at Arizona Western College in Yuma are joining a select group of institutions throughout the country who are committed to evaluating and optimizing the transfer student journey. I’m proud of the existing work and partnership in place in Yuma between NAU and AWC and look forward to this opportunity to further our collaboration as true pacesetters nationally for what a quality transfer experience can be for students.
  • In addition to these and other engagements, I also tuned in throughout the week to the Big Sky basketball tournament, where NAU’s women once again had an epic run to the finals. Clearly, we have a great team, and I know a championship is in their future!
  • Last week, things ramped up once again for the home stretch of the semester, with an accompanying weekend reminder that snow isn’t quite done with us yet! In addition to class on Monday, I also met with our Advancement | Foundation team to prep for various upcoming fundraising engagements and overview our strategy for how we will share NAU’s tremendous impact and value proposition with philanthropic partners.
  • On Wednesday, the President’s Cabinet convened, and we discussed our workplace practices and strategies; strategic financial frameworks to structurally align our mission with the current and future market we seek to serve and ensure healthy margins and sustainable operations; reviewed the impact of NAU 2025 – Elevating Excellence thus far as our strategic roadmap continues to guide our work; and highlighted efforts from across functional units that contribute to our momentum and success. I also had several external meetings before and after my class session held via Zoom with colleagues in higher education from across the country.
  • Tuesday began with an interview showcasing our Universal Admissions program through A++, which is helping redefine the potential of college. Then I was off to Phoenix for several events, including a magical gathering of donors, alumni, and supporters from the greater Phoenix area who contribute much to our university’s continued success.
  • Half of Friday was spent in the valley and meetings included a visit with the leadership team at Banner Health to discuss partnership opportunities and emerging workstreams with NAU Health, as well as a visit to Mullett Arena at ASU to learn about their operations and take lessons back to our athletic and event venues here at NAU. Unfortunately, due to personal commitments over the weekend, I wasn’t able to stay in the valley for the annual Regents Cup debate competition but want to share my appreciation for our dedicated coaches and excellent students for all they did to represent NAU at this prestigious tri-university competition that showcases civil discourse.
  • This week, in addition to the Showcase of Strategies for Student Success and my regular teaching commitments on Monday and Wednesday, I’ve spent most of my time in smaller meetings with members of my team. One additional highlight from Tuesday was a visit to Coconino Community College, alongside Louie the Lumberjack, to officially welcome Coco the Comet to the Flagstaff mascot community!
  • Finally, some great news about NAU’s efforts to collaborate and bolster attainment was recently published in the Arizona Republic. I encourage you to read the tremendous story about the impact of the Arizona Attainment Alliance (A++) and the Universal Admissions program, which is scaling out across partner community colleges this year.

Heading into next week, I hope to see and engage with many of you on NAU Giving Day on April 3. This is a day of celebration and commitment to NAU’s mission, and I know this sixth Giving Day will outpace previous editions and help support student scholarships, support services, research projects, and more to amplify NAU’s impact and benefit our students in Arizona and beyond. Watch the Giving Day video.

In partnership,

José Luis Cruz Rivera



NAU Communications