Rita Cheng, President, Northern Arizona University


Rita Hartung Cheng serves as the 16th president of Northern Arizona University. As a first-generation and non-traditional college graduate, Dr. Cheng firmly believes in making higher education accessible and affordable for all students. She has set forth a vision of excellence in education through student-centered teaching, a robust research environment and inclusive support services, focused on success measured through retention and graduation rates.

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 more than $500 million and 4,600 faculty and staff. The university offers more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs to its 29,000 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 in August 2014 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. 

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

Dr. Cheng currently serves on a variety of local and national boards including:


  • Higher Learning Commission, Board of Directors (2015-present)
  • NCAA, Board of Governors (2012-present)
  • AASCU, Board of Directors (2015-present)
  • APLU, Committee on Use of Data for Decision Making (2014-present)
  • Big Sky President’s Council (2014-present)
  • Future University of Egypt, Board of Advisors (2011-present)
  • APLU Audit Committee, Vice Chair (2013-present)
  • Arizona State Board of Education (2016-present)
  • Arizona Women in Higher Education, Presidential Advisor (2015-present)


  • Arizona Commerce Authority, Board Member (2014-present)
  • Phoenix Leadership Council (2014-present)
  • Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, Board Member (2014-present)
  • Southern Arizona Leadership Council (2015-present)
  • Phoenix Chamber of Commerce (2014-present)
  • Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce (2014-present)