Northern Arizona University and College Track Announce Innovative Partnership to Increase Educational Equity

NAU and national nonprofit College Track will work together to offer innovative opportunities for scholars from underserved communities to thrive in higher education.


OAKLAND (Aug. 31): Employing both an Honors College-based cohort model for university admissions and an immersive summer experience for high school students around the country, College Track and Northern Arizona University (NAU) announced today an innovative partnership to increase the number of first-generation college graduates from underserved communities.

Founded in East Palo Alto, CA, in 1997, College Track is a comprehensive college access and success nonprofit dedicated to educational equity by equipping students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, purpose, and power. College Track makes a 10-year commitment to each of its scholars, beginning in high school and lasting through the launch of their careers.

NAU is a nationally recognized leader in delivering equitable postsecondary value and fueling students’ economic and social mobility through its equitable admissions practices, holistic student support services, and impactful academic programs. Founded in 1899, the university has a storied legacy serving the people and communities of Arizona and is focused on meeting talent with opportunity to help students from all backgrounds and walks of life achieve their full potential.

An important distinction of this partnership is the establishment of Semester Zero, an immersive, college preparatory summer experience on NAU’s Flagstaff Mountain Campus for rising juniors from each of College Track’s 12 centers nationwide. Semester Zero is a one-of-a-kind program, created through a collaboration between College Track and NAU leadership that reflects the value both organizations place on affecting educational equity and their significant commitment to the success of first-generation college students. In total, more than 500 College Track scholars will come to NAU in summer 2024 for the inaugural Semester Zero, where they will live on campus to preview college life, engage in rich learning experiences, connect with peers from across the country, and solidify their college-going aspirations—all in one of the most beautiful college towns in the nation.

Unlike many niche summer programs that are discipline-based or only easily accessible to affluent families, the NAU and College Track partnership for Semester Zero is unique in that the effort will bring together hundreds of first-generation students from cities across the nation, regardless of whether they have a major in mind or are still exploring their interests and talents.  Semester Zero serves as an expansive experience designed to build on the foundation College Track establishes early in high school and position students to succeed as they finish high school and prepare for college by equipping them with valuable skills, helping them make informed choices, and ensuring that their plans for postsecondary attainment become a reality.

In addition to Semester Zero, NAU and College Track are launching a cohort program at NAU’s Honors College, where College Track scholars who attend NAU will have tailored support throughout their postsecondary journey that will propel them to academic and life success. Key highlights of the cohort partnership include the following:

  • Dedicated on-campus space: NAU will provide a dedicated space on campus for College Track to provide program services to its scholars attending the university. This location will be an affirming space for College Track’s first-generation college students to build relationships with one another and meet with their College Thrive Coaches.
  • Designated co-leadership: To indicate the importance of the partnership to both organizations, NAU’s Vice President for Student Affairs will work with College Track’s Vice President of College Access and Partnerships to ensure the success of scholars.
  • Cohort-based admissions: NAU will guarantee admissions to its Honors College for at least five College Track scholars every year, including undocumented students. The NAU Honors College is recognized for its innovative curriculum and commitment to student support and success.
  • Financial commitment: To underscore its belief in the importance of these scholars to NAU’s community, the university will offer financial support to the NAU-CT cohort. NAU will cover tuition and fees for up to five years of full-time enrollment per CT scholar. NAU will guarantee each CT scholar an on-campus student employment opportunity to help cover day-to-day NAU will also provide significant funding to cover room and board, and scholars will live in the new Honors College Campus Living Community in their first year. Students can meet with their advisers, take Honors classes, and get career support all within the Honors College CLC.

“NAU and College Track have complementary missions dedicated to promoting postsecondary access, attainment, equity, and lifelong success for the students we serve,” said José Luis Cruz Rivera, Ph.D., President of NAU. “With this innovative new partnership, we are joining forces to offer a transformational experience for every College Track Scholar in the country by immersing them in a supportive environment here at NAU that is designed to be a launchpad to college life that creates the conditions for students to meet their full potential. I cannot wait to welcome the College Track Scholars to Flagstaff next summer for Semester Zero at NAU and to launching our Honors College CT cohort program next fall.”

“A true transformation of the educational landscape in this country requires bold, innovative thinking and a willingness to design programs and alliances that are responsive to what students know will contribute to their success,” said Shirley M. Collado, Ph.D., President & CEO of College Track. “This partnership reflects a deep commitment to both innovative thinking and a responsive approach, particularly in the creation of ‘Semester Zero.’ This program is the first time that an institution of higher education is partnering with a national nonprofit to co-create–from the ground up–an original living and learning opportunity for first-generation scholars on an academic campus. Tailoring our work in the higher ed sector to create opportunity for students from all walks of life is how we move the needle on educational equity, In NAU we have an invaluable partner committed to ensuring students are welcomed, prepared, and equipped to succeed in college.”

Across the country, College Track scholars have graduated from or are currently attending 277 colleges and universities in 36 states. NAU is an access and attainment focused university that serves a diverse student population, including more than 40 percent first generation college students, and is recognized for its positive impact on students’ economic mobility, as demonstrated in its Tier I ranking in Third Way’s Economic Mobility Index.

“College Track makes a 10-year commitment to each of our scholars that extends from the ninth grade, to college graduation and into the launch of their career or post-graduate study. This is a critical decade in our scholars’ lives, and their ability to feel a sense of belonging within a group of peers who are on the same path is absolutely essential to their success,” said College Track Chief of Education Rosanna Ferro, Ed.D. “This partnership with NAU is unique because it provides that sense of belonging to both our high school scholars and our college scholars, enabling the types of connections that not only develop community, but provide the blueprint for lifelong networks and support systems.”

“The NAU Honors College is excited to partner with College Track to provide a high-quality and high-touch educational experience designed to help students meet their academic potential,” said Kevin Gustafson, Ph.D., Dean of the NAU Honors College. “Our innovative curriculum, rich range of co-curricular opportunities, and support services are designed to help students identify and achieve their ambitions, and I look forward to welcoming our first cohort of CT scholars, who will contribute to the inclusive excellence of our honors community at NAU.”


About Northern Arizona University

NAU is a community-engaged, high-research university that delivers an exceptional student-centered experience to students in Flagstaff, at 22 statewide campuses, and online. The university aims to be the nation’s preeminent engine of opportunity, vehicle of economic mobility, and driver of social impact by delivering equitable postsecondary value in Arizona and beyond.  Through its impactful academic programs and enriching experiences, NAU is committed to meeting talent with access and excellence, paving the way to a better future for the diverse students it serves and the communities they represent.

Media contact: Kimberly Ott,


About College Track

College Track’s mission is to democratize potential by equipping students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, and power. College Track serves nearly 3,500 students in 12 centers located in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro Area, with more than 1,100 alumni across America. Ninety percent of College Track scholars are first-generation college students, and 84 percent are from underserved communities. They earn their bachelor’s degrees at more than two and a half times the rate of their first-generation peers.

Media contact: Christy Johnson,