Today, according to preliminary data, nearly 50,000 Arizona high school students across grades 9-12 might not have access to certain courses currently required for admission to NAU.

Northern Arizona University is tackling this challenge head on with a pilot program that will ensure more highly qualified, hard-working students, who graduate from an Arizona high school have a pathway to a college degree at NAU.

Standing on its 122-year history of success in serving as a vehicle of upward mobility and a driver of transformative change for the people of Arizona and beyond, NAU will launch the program for the incoming class of Fall 2023 to accelerate and expand college participation statewide and, in turn, help strengthen Arizona’s workforce.

“We want NAU to be known as Arizona’s engine of opportunity, and achieving this objective begins with tailoring our admissions practices to align with this goal,” President José Luis Cruz Rivera said.

READ ALSO: AZ BIG Podcast: José Luis Cruz Rivera talks about the ‘New NAU’

Barriers to a college education can come in many forms, and NAU is working to eliminate unnecessary obstacles. Currently, thousands of hard-working Arizona high school students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA are not assured admission to NAU because they may not have access to all the required courses.

Anika Olsen, NAU’s vice president of enrollment management, pointed to NAU data as metrics for student success. “We found a student’s GPA in high school is the best predictor of success at NAU. With that in mind, NAU’s new requirements will maintain a 3.0 GPA, while accepting the courses currently required by high schools throughout Arizona, bringing in students who already have the tools needed to be successful.”

Currently NAU, like Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, requires 16 core courses for assured admissions. However, not all Arizona high schools offer the 16 core courses, especially in second languages and math. NAU’s pilot program removes the second language course availability barrier and will accept more fourth-year math courses, allowing more students the opportunity to pursue a postsecondary education.

“I believe this will be transformative for our students and our state,” said Kathy Hoffman, Arizona’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Aligning admission to NAU with standards that already exist within our K-12 system provides a clear and transparent message to Arizona students who work hard that they can and will be able to go to college.”

NAU Applied Research & Development Facility.

President Cruz Rivera noted that this is only one measure to be taken in a multi-year effort that will make NAU more accessible and affordable for all students, including those who come from lower income families and underrepresented communities.

As part of the pilot, NAU also will reimagine its student support services, to ensure the success of all students who may need additional support.

“At NAU, our mission is to be a leading university for access, success and equitable value,” President Cruz Rivera said. “With this program, we are making it clear to students and families that strong performance in high school gives them a clear, unobstructed pathway to NAU.”

Arizona Board of Regents Chair Lyndel Manson added that NAU’s efforts also are directly linked to expanding the workforce of Arizona. “Our state’s economy is booming and projected employment opportunities in high-wage, high-demand fields are significant. However, without bold intervention to broaden access and opportunity for a postsecondary degree, many Arizona residents will be left behind. NAU’s new admissions program aligns more closely with high school graduation requirements, and I am excited to see the changes that can be realized through this effort.”

That urgency is supported by Greater Phoenix Leadership (GPL). “Throughout our state, the need is clear for an educated pipeline of Arizonans to match the booming economic opportunities of our state,” said Jorge Quintero, president and CEO of QCM Technologies, and John Graham, president and CEO of Sunbelt Holdings, who serve as co-chairs of GPL’s Education Committee. “We are pleased to see NAU and ABOR taking a leadership position in advancing this work to help educate the talented workforce of the future that will continue to drive our state’s prosperity.”

Quintero added that supporting access is a key priority for the state: “I believe NAU is taking the right approach by eliminating barriers to give our underserved and diverse students the opportunity for a pathway to a college education.”

Through this pilot, NAU plans to increase the number and diversity of Arizona residents with high-quality postsecondary degrees and certificates. This program will result in extensive benefits to the state of Arizona, including reducing unemployment and underemployment, increasing wages, bolstering civic engagement and voter participation, advancing equity and justice and improving physical and mental health while enhancing the social well-being and the economic competitiveness of the state.

“In short, NAU’s pilot program will elevate our commitment to better serve all Arizonans,” President Cruz Rivera said. “We will do this by eliminating barriers that undermine the college-going aspirations of highly talented, diverse students who—with the right level of support—can succeed at NAU and be active and productive participants in our democracy and our economy.”