Yesterday, Rita Cheng, the finalist to become the next president of Northern Arizona University visited the Flagstaff mountain campus. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, she addressed the challenges of an expanding higher education environment.
Cheng addressed an audience of university and community members at a packed Ashurst Hall on the NAU campus. It was her first visit to Flagstaff as the Arizona Board of Regents’ sole finalist to become president of the university.
Cheng highlighted the importance of a continued focus on the education of Native Americans, Latinos, women, and students who are the first in their families to attend college. Cheng herself is a first-generation college graduate. She spoke afterward at a press conference.
“Education transforms all lives, but clearly underrepresented individuals benefit the most from having access and opportunity to a college education … Truly, an institution of higher ed is only exceptional if it has a very inclusive environment,” Cheng said.
Cheng has served as the chancellor of Southern Illinois University since 2010. The Southern Illinoisan and the Arizona Daily Sun report that during her tenure at SIU, freshman enrollment numbers have increased, though the total student population has declined slightly.
The Arizona Board of Regents is expected to hold a final vote next week to confirm Cheng for the NAU presidency. If approved, she will begin the job this fall. Current NAU president John Haeger said he will return to teaching upon stepping down.