Rita Cheng, President, Northern Arizona University

Rita Cheng 230px

Rita Cheng serves as the 16th president of Northern Arizona University. As a first-generation and non-traditional college student, Dr. Cheng firmly believes in making higher education accessible and affordable for all students. Her top priorities for the university are to enhance student success, promote effective teaching and learning, support the research environment and expand community engagement.

Dr. Cheng also is part of the Arizona Board of Regents’ Enterprise Executive Committee, comprised of the presidents of NAU, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and ABOR as the executive leadership of the Arizona public university enterprise system responsible for driving achievement of statewide goals.

At NAU, Dr. Cheng oversees an operating budget of $491 million and 5,500 faculty and staff. The university offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs to its 26,000 students.

A practical approach to interpersonal relationships and institutional leadership traces its roots to Dr. Cheng’s small-town upbringing in Wisconsin, where her father was a farmer and her mother a schoolteacher. An accountant by training, she leads by relying on values, analyzing data and inviting the input of stakeholders. She also emphasizes shared governance, transparency, communication, accountability and inclusiveness. Dr. Cheng supports a strong, academically focused athletics program, but also champions music, art, theater and other cultural and recreational activities that contribute to the vibrancy of campus. She also regards campus as an integral part of the local community.

Dr. Cheng arrived at NAU from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where she served as chancellor for four years and was a professor of accounting. She previously spent 22 years in teaching and administrative roles at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, including five years as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

A certified public accountant and certified government financial manager, Dr. Cheng is internationally recognized for her research in government and nonprofit accounting. She serves on a variety of local and national boards, including the NCAA Division 1 board of directors.  

Dr. Cheng earned her Ph.D. in management from the Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University, an MBA degree from the University of Rhode Island and a bachelor of business administration degree with honors from Bishop‘s University in Quebec.