National University Receives $4M Grant to Improve Outcomes for Nontraditional, Working, and Military Students

The National University Peer Navigator Network will deploy current adult learners across the institution to offer help and advice leading to improved student success 

SAN DIEGO, CA (February 1, 2024)National University (NU) — a nonprofit Minority Serving Institution (MSI) that serves 50,000 degree-seeking students and 80,000 workforce and professional development students annually — today announced that it has received a $4 million federal grant to create the NU Peer Navigator Network, a large peer-to-peer support system allowing students at all degree levels of the university to get help from more experienced schoolmates on everything from academics to work-life balance.  

“National University’s mission is to provide accessible, world-class student experiences to non-traditional, working, and military-affiliated learners,” said Dr. Mark D. Milliron, NU president and CEO. “This grant will allow us to deploy expanded peer support to our learners provided by successful students who personally relate to these diverse and unique backgrounds. There is so much learning and support goodness here.”

NU designed the Peer Navigator Network approach to match the requirements of the Postsecondary Student Success Grant (PSSG) program, the source of the $4 million in funding given to NU’s School of Arts, Letters, and Sciences. The U.S. Department of Education awarded a total of $93 million to 20 colleges and universities to support research and development and improve completion rates for underserved students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and MSIs such as NU, according to a DOE press release.

The NU Peer Navigator Network – based on a much smaller, existing program at NU – will be built out, tested, improved, and evaluated over the next four years. Dr. Nicole Polen-Petit, dean of NU’s School of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, and Dr. J.B. Robinson will serve as co-principal investigators on the project, which will ultimately include three professional staff to create a central hub to hire experienced students as peer navigators, establish and maintain virtual and onsite opportunities for connection and support, and develop credential-rich peer mentor training programs. The co-principal investigators envision 80 to 100 peer navigators working at all degree levels across the various academic departments, schools, and colleges within the university.

“There is ample evidence of the effectiveness of peer mentorship and peer-to-peer support in higher education, especially with first-generation and historically underserved students,” Dr. Polen-Petit said. “We are delighted to adapt predominantly onsite models for our adult learners, many of whom are in online programs, and improve overall student success while also closing equity gaps in course and program-level outcomes.”

Near the end of 2027, NU will evaluate program impact against specific goals spelled out in the grant application, including: raising first-year credit accumulation for students in undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs; increasing persistence; improving graduation rates; decreasing the time to credential for all students; and increasing the total number of credentials awarded annually.

While NU makes its headquarters in San Diego, students from throughout California, the nation, and the world attend classes, which occur mostly online. Founded in San Diego in 1971 by a former U.S. Navy captain, NU boasts 230,000 alumni worldwide. 

NU is an access and success innovator with an extremely diverse student population of non-traditional and underserved learners from many walks of life, and approximately half of NU’s undergraduates are active-duty military, Veterans, and their dependents. NU is the largest conferrer of graduate degrees to minority students in the United States, with more than 50 percent of graduates being women. The university is the third largest conferrer of doctoral degrees overall. NU is one of the largest private MSIs and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) in the United States. Two-thirds of NU students and graduates are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

About National University: National University, a Veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 190+ online and on-campus programs with flexible four-week and eight-week classes and one-to-one graduate education models designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to 130,000 learners served per year—50,000 degree-seeking students and 80,000 workforce and professional development students—and 230,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. To learn more about National University’s new possibilities in education including next-generation education, value-rich education, and whole human education, visit

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