Rich Nickel

President and CEO

Rich Nickel is president and CEO of Education Forward Arizona. His career has centered on advancing educational opportunities for low-income students. 

For the past decade, Nickel has worked to advance educational opportunity and excellence in Arizona. He has spent nearly 30 years working in the education space, helping students and families with financial need achieve their educational goals. Those efforts have strengthened his commitment to helping transform Arizona’s education system in ways that ensure access to quality education for every student — from early learning to college and career.

An innovative and successful edu-preneur, Nickel has helped to start and grow several successful education nonprofits, including College Success Arizona, which was focused on helping Arizona reach the state’s attainment goal. While at College Success Arizona, Nickel worked with a team of Arizona education, policy and philanthropic leaders to design Achieve60AZ, the state’s postsecondary attainment goal, and to secure key state leadership endorsement of it. Reaching the state attainment goal remains a key objective of Education Forward Arizona. Nickel has also helped to accelerate the growth of — and increase the number of students served by — Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN). And, in partnership with ASU, helped to design and win a national competition to launch Ask Benji. This AI-powered technology helps increase statewide rates of FAFSA completion, essential to helping more students secure aid, which in turn increases the chances of college access and affordability.

Nickel is a statewide leader in identifying and addressing practical and policy barriers to improving education along the early learning, K-12 and postsecondary continuum. A go-to source, statewide and nationally, Nickel has spoken, presented and published extensively on issues related to the importance of education and the return on investment that education provides to the Arizona economy in addition to its benefits for students, their families and their communities. In media and other public venues, Nickel is an advocate for the importance of early learning and K-12 preparedness as essential elements of postsecondary and workforce success. 

An effective executive leader, Nickel has served in non-profit and for-profit roles and has created several successful public-private partnerships. He has a proven track record in nonprofit management, fund development, board development and nonprofit growth strategies. He is accustomed to achieving bold goals through creative and well-defined partnerships. 

With roots in rural Kentucky, Nickel is passionate about addressing the specific needs of rural students, including lack of access to educational resources, affordability and the information gap that exists for many rural students about the opportunities available to them and how to access them. Improving opportunities for rural students is a key focus of his work in Arizona. A facilitator and collaborator by nature, Nickel’s experience with communities across the state and nation enables him to work comfortably and effectively with people from all walks of life. 

Nickel has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky. When not traveling to meet with and learn from the experiences of people across the state, he and his wife Beth, a lifelong educator, reside in Phoenix.