Today, Northern Arizona University (NAU) 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.

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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, Arizona Attainment Alliance 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 Arizona Attainment Alliance 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.