APU Earns Best College Rankings for First-Year Experiences and Social Mobility

by Heather Nelson

Azusa Pacific University was named one of the top universities in the country for 2021, based on the best college rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

While overall ranking among national universities is a source of pride, APU stood out for its high marks in two different sub-categories. This year, APU ranked #27 in First-Year Experiences and #71 as a Top Performer on Social Mobility.

These rankings highlight the university’s commitment to providing top-notch experiences for its incoming students and pathways to social mobility for economically disadvantaged students. Here’s a closer look at what each of these sub-rankings means and why APU was recognized.

First-Year Experiences at APU

A student’s first-year experience is critical to their overall success in college. It even affects whether a student makes it to graduation.

With this in mind, universities like APU created first-year programs that go well beyond orientation. These programs—designed for both freshmen and transfer students—aim to provide a solid foundation that allows new students to get involved. This can help them feel a sense of belonging in the university community right away, which is an important factor in how new students navigate the rest of their college journeys.

“In order for students to thrive, they need to feel a sense of belonging on campus and build self-advocacy skills, which first-year experiences help to foster,” said Stephanie Gala, M.A., director of academic advising in APU’s Academic Success Center. “Setting up a foundation of support in the first year contributes to student success and, ultimately, degree completion.”

Last fall, incoming freshmen and transfer students highlighted the sense of community, awareness of campus resources, development in critical thinking, and discipline-specific content and knowledge as positive aspects of their first-year experiences—all of which are reflected in the U.S. News & World Report best college rankings.

“I believe the U.S. News ranking underscores APU’s efforts in welcoming new students with a heart of genuine care and authenticity,” said Alpha Joy Lawson, M.S., transitions coordinator for APU’s Office of Campus Life. “Given this unique year of remote learning, our team has continued to serve new students with intentional care. The format, modality, and ‘how’ of our program may look different this year—but our mission, purpose, and our ‘why’ have remained the same. We believe it’s more important than ever.”

Moving Up Through Social Mobility

First-generation college students and those from low-income families are historically less likely to finish college. APU’s ranking for social mobility shows how the university continues to strive toward helping ensure all students—regardless of background or economic status—have more equitable paths toward success.

“One-size-fits-all doesn’t work,” said Gala. “Through programming, services, and events across campus, we strive to collaboratively provide what our student body needs from the moment they start their journey to their graduation and beyond, as alumni.”

APU’s social mobility ranking is in large part due to the success of the school’s two TRIO programs, which provide educational opportunities, financial literacy, and financial resourcing to first-generation college students, Pell Grant-eligible students, and/or those who qualify for academic accommodations.

“Additional financial aid opportunities like TRIO SSS Grant Aid help the most economically disadvantaged students at APU continue thriving academically,” said Armando Bustos, M.S., director of APU’s TRIO programs. “A student who can focus on their school work instead of how they will pay for their education is more likely to graduate.”

Committed to Success

APU’s recent rankings for first-year experiences and social mobility affirm the university’s commitment to helping its students succeed and pursuing equity and inclusion in higher education.

“These rankings demonstrate APU’s commitment to God-honoring academic excellence and efforts to be a diverse, inclusive, and equitable institution,” said Gala.

Through programs like TRIO and Alpha to events and support services for freshmen, the campus community works to meet the needs of all students—from first-year to first-generation—keeping them on the path to graduation and their future careers.

“At APU, we recognize that every student should be given the individual support and resourcing needed to reach their academic goals,” said Gala. “We are committed to our entire community’s success.”

Curious to learn more about Azusa Pacific University? Read about the school’s rankings by visiting U.S. News & World Report and explore the campus through APU’s virtual campus experience.