National University Student Honored as American Council on Education Student of the Year

ACE/Sophia Learning Recognizes Joel Riley, a Marine Corps Veteran, as one of two recipients of the 2022 Student of the Year Designation.

SAN DIEGO, CA (March 29, 2023) — National University (NU), the Veteran-founded nonprofit university serving 40,000 working adult learners, educators, and members of the military community announced jointly with the American Council on Education (ACE), that Joel Riley, a Marine Corps Veteran and project manager in the finance technology industry, is one of two recipients of the 2022 American Council on Education (ACE)/Sophia Learning Students of t​he Year Award.​​​ This distinction is presented annually by ACE to two individuals who have benefitted academically or professionally from the use of ACE credit recommendations for workforce or military training. Recipients must demonstrate outstanding achievements in their community or workplace while successfully balancing the demands of family, career, and education.

Riley first became interested in the U.S. Marine Corps after learning about some of its humanitarian work, and at age 19, he enlisted. During his service, Riley earned a variety of accolades: he was selected as an honor graduate in boot camp and in technical school; elected as a class leader at technical school; and honored with the Operation Inherent Resolve Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals. “Every success indicated to me that I was right where I was supposed to be, and further propelled me to keep going,” Riley said.

While in the Marines, Riley enrolled at National University, and he was able to apply 135 Joint Services Credits that he gained from the technical and leadership schools toward his degree. Riley remained enrolled in this program while embarking on two combat deployments. “It was a true challenge, but my professors were gracious and understanding when factors out of my control presented challenges,” he said.

Riley expects to graduate in the spring of 2024 from National University and plans to pursue an advanced degree in psychology, due to his desire to help Veterans and people of color with mental health issues. His passion for education, however, does not stop with himself. Before he left active duty, Riley ensured that all the Marines under his direct command were enrolled in higher education courses. Riley still offers mentorship to Marines, and he works as a life coach in his personal time.

“Joel Riley exemplifies National University’s mission of providing an accessible, world-class student experience that ensures student success through meaningful learning,” said Dr. Mark D. Milliron, president and CEO of National University. “We are honored that ACE selected a NU student and so very proud of the good work that Joel is doing in the community to support others; he truly serves as a role model to us all.”

The winners will be honored at ACE2023, ACE’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Joining Joel Riley in this honor is Amberlin Dupre, an operations manager at a national nonprofit medical society who graduated from Thomas Edison State University this spring. Both recipients will receive a $1,000 scholarship to help fund their education.

This year’s sponsor for the ACE Student of the Year Award is Sophia Learning, an online learning platform that allows students to get a head start on their education, or finish up a degree, by taking affordable and flexible general education-level courses that are ACE-recommended for college credit. Since 2020, Sophia students have completed more than 250,000 courses, earning more than 750,000 credits, and saving more than $200 million dollars.

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 125 online and on-campus programs and flexible four-week and eight-week classes designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to 40,000 students and 200,000 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, credential-rich education, and whole human education, visit

About American Council on Education:
ACE is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. As the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, our strength lies in our diverse membership of more than 1,700 colleges and universities, related associations, and other organizations in America and abroad. ACE is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: two-year and four-year, public and private. For more information, please visit

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