Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University (GCU) is a for-profit private Christian university in Phoenix, Arizona. Based on student enrollment, Grand Canyon University was the largest Christian university in the world with 70,000 students attending online and 20,000 attending on campus in 2018.[5]

Grand Canyon University
Former names
Grand Canyon College
MottoFind Your Purpose
TypePrivate For-profit college
Religious affiliation
Evangelical Christian
PresidentBrian Mueller
Administrative staff
Students20,500 (on campus)
70,000 (online)
90,500 (total)[1][2]
Location, ,
United States
100 acres (0.40 km2)[3]
NewspaperGCU Today
ColorsPurple, black, white[4]
AthleticsNCAA Division I
NicknameAntelopes ("Lopes")
MascotThunder the Antelope
Grand Canyon Education, Inc.
Russell 1000 Index component
OwnerGrand Canyon Education

Grand Canyon was established by the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention on August 1, 1949, in Prescott, Arizona as Grand Canyon College.[6] In 2000, the university ended its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention.[7] Suffering financial and other difficulties in the early part of the 21st century, the school's trustees authorized its sale in January 2004 to California-based Significant Education, LLC,[8] making it the first for-profit Christian college in the United States.[9] Following that purchase, the university became the first and only for-profit to participate in NCAA Division I athletics.[10] In 2018 the university received approval from its regional accreditor as well as the IRS and the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education to return to non-profit status[11] the U.S. Department of Education rejected the university's request to classify it as a non-profit and continues to classify the university as for-profit.[12][13] The university also directly operates alongside the for-profit publicly traded corporation, Grand Canyon Education, Inc. that bundles services for the university to operate. The university president, Brian Meuller, also serves as the CEO of GCE.[14][15]

The university offers various programs through its nine colleges including doctoral studies, business, education, fine arts and production, humanities and social sciences, nursing and health care professions, science, theology, engineering and technology.[16]



The college was founded as a nonprofit institution in 1949 in Prescott. Arizona Southern Baptists felt the need to establish a faith-based institution that would allow local Baptists the opportunity to obtain a bachelor's or master's degree without going east to one of the Baptist colleges in Texas or Oklahoma. On October 8, 1951, Grand Canyon College relocated to its current location in Phoenix.[17] In 1984, the college's trustees voted to transition the college to a university for the 40th anniversary of the school in 1989, at which time it also changed governance from the Southern Baptist Convention to the GCU Board of Trustees.[17]

Restructuring/conversion to for-profit

Suffering financial and other difficulties in the early part of the 21st century, the school's trustees authorized its sale in January 2004 to California-based Significant Education, LLC,[8] making it the first for-profit Christian college in the United States.[9] Significant Education traded on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol "LOPE."

After the infusion of capital, Grand Canyon University's size increased. After having fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in 2008, the university had 17,500 students in the spring of 2017.[18] As of 2015, an economic impact study revealed that the university adds about $1 billion into the state's economy on a yearly basis.[19] In February 2017, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said that the neighborhoods surrounding the university have experienced a 30% increase in housing values while concurrently seeing a 30% decrease in crime rates.[20]

In 2008, Grand Canyon was sued by the United States federal government for violating the Department of Education's incentive compensation ban. GCU eventually reached a settlement in the case, and was forced to pay a 5.2 million dollar fine to a former employee and the federal government.[21]

Arizona State University refused to play games against GCU in any sport, even though they are only 16 miles apart, due to GCU's for-profit status and GCU only focusing on raising stock prices.[22][23]

Failed return to non-profit status

In fall 2014 the school announced the exploration of a return to non-profit status.[24] Grand Canyon's regional accreditation body, The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), rejected the university's petition for conversion to non-profit status in 2016, stating that the school's proposed strategy, particularly its plan to outsource some of its activities (such as curriculum development and student support services) to outside vendors, did not meet the criteria for "such a conversion".[24][25][26] In 2018, the university submitted another application to HLC to change to non-profit status.[27] This second application was accepted on July 1, 2018.[28][29] Although some organizations have approved this transition, the U.S. Department of Education still classifies the university as a for-profit university. The government specifically stated that GCU is a captive client to Grand Canyon Education, and the college is operating for the benefit of shareholders of a for-profit company.[30]. The university plans to challenge the department's ruling.[12][13]

Grand Canyon University was alleged to switch from for-profit status to non-profit status due to its yearly $9.2 million property tax bill. Numerous school officials said this was unsustainable and was one of the key reasons a required switch from for-profit to non-profit status was made, to reduce that burden.[22] Some critics of for-profit education still criticize that the relationship between GCU and Grand Canyon Education Inc is too intertwined. A former department of education official notes that no other university in the country has its CEO working for its contractor and itself.[14] Brian Galle, Professor of Law at Georgetown Law, has written extensively about the relationship between the non-profit and for-profit entities and argues that because the non-profit is wholly dependent on the for-profit, the non-profit status should not be allowed.[31]

In 2018, Grand Canyon's nursing program was censured by the Arizona State Board of Nursing over test passage rates. The censure came due to the number of first-time students failing to pass the registered nursing exam and after numerous complaints by students and faculty.[32]


In 2006, the college spent US$150 million to renovate the campus, adding a brick promenade, an aquatics center, with pool and hot tub, and a café offering an assortment of games and big-screen televisions.[33]

In 2009, Grand Canyon University's campus began work on a $60 million campus expansion project which includes a 500-bed dormitory, a 55,000-square-foot (5,100 m2) fitness and recreation center, 125-classroom facility, food court and bowling alley,[34] and a 5000-seat arena. The GCU Arena, which opened on September 2, 2011,[35] is used for concerts, speakers, and other events. The arena is also home to the college's men's and women's basketball teams, and women's volleyball games.[36] The arena was expanded to 7,000 seats with construction beginning in spring 2014 and concluding in August of the same year.[37][38] Grand Canyon University offers several fast food restaurants, coffee shops, student union, cafeteria, video game room, and six-lane bowling alley for student recreation.[39] In August 2016, the university announced it was establishing a campus police department employing a 177-member police force.[40]

GCU gained widespread attention in August 2016 when it announced its 10 in 2 initiative, the building of 10 on-campus athletic facilities in a two-year span. Highlights of the project included brand new facilities for the university's soccer, baseball, softball, tennis and beach volleyball programs. It also included a sports medicine expansion, an equipment room expansion, practice facilities for the basketball and golf programs, and a student-athlete academic center.[41]

In August 2017, Grand Canyon's Phoenix campus was ranked as one of the 10 Best College Campuses Across America by Town & Country.[42]


Grand Canyon University offers over 200 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs through its nine colleges.[43]

  • Colangelo College of Business
  • College of Education
  • College of Fine Arts and Production
  • College of Humanities, Social Sciences
  • College of Nursing and Health Care Professions
  • College of Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • College of Theology
  • College of Doctoral Studies
  • GCU Honors College

In August 2016, the university announced that it was opening a seminary.[44]

In April 2017, Arizona nursing board officials censured GCU after the school's nursing programs fell below 80% graduation rate for two consecutive years. GCU said it would implement a plan to increase graduation rates.[45] Three months later, the nursing board announced it was pleased with the "tremendous improvements" the university had shown to addressing all concerns.[46] In the second quarter of 2018, Grand Canyon University's nursing students posted a 95.65 percent first-time pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This leads to a year-to-date rate of 92.86 percent, which is higher than the Arizona Board of Nursing's year-to-date statewide average of 91.89.[47]

Grand Canyon University's academic workers include 335 full-time workers and more than 4200 adjunct faculty.[44]

GCU has a graduation rate of 41%, below the national average.[48]


Grand Canyon University is currently a member of NCAA Division I with most sports participating in the Western Athletic Conference. Men's Volleyball competes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and Beach Volleyball competes independently. In March 2013, former Phoenix Suns shooting guard Dan Majerle was hired as the 13th men's basketball coach. Majerle oversaw GCU's transition into NCAA Division I basketball in the WAC.

On August 23, 2017, the NCAA officially approved Grand Canyon's move to Division I, elevating the university to active membership status. GCU immediately became eligible for postseason competition.[49]

Recognition, ranking, statistics, and accreditation

Grand Canyon University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). According to the HLC, Grand Canyon College entered candidacy for accreditation in 1961. By 1968 the school was regionally accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and remains accredited, successfully renewing its 10-year comprehensive evaluation in 2017.[50] GCU also holds additional accreditations from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Arizona State Board of Educations, and the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). The university teachers and administrator preparation programs are approved by the Arizona Department of Education.[51]

In autumn 2015, GCU admitted 58 percent of those applying.[52] The freshman retention rate is 61 percent.[52] U.S. News & World Report classifies the university among "National Universities", wherein it was classified in the 2017 Best Colleges as a Tier 2 institution (meaning its ranking placed it in the bottom 25 percent of institutions in its category).[52]

Notable alumni


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