Grand Canyon University (GCU), a nearly 60-year-old college started by Arizona Baptists, is in the forefront of a trend to turn Christian education into a profit-making enterprise.
Phoenix-based GCU was saved from bankruptcy last year when the school's board of directors sold the institution to a group of Christian investors. Significant Education LLC agreed to buy GCU in January 2004, with plans to transform it into the first for-profit Christian college in the U.S.
Michael K. Clifford, one of GCU's new vice chairmen, said he and other investors were attracted to GCU's "great reputation" and believed they could turn the school into a money-making venture.
"The educational industry is a robust industry on Wall Street," Clifford said. "The eight publicly traded companies are actually doing very well." He hopes to grow the school to rival the University of Phoenix and DeVry University, two of the largest for-profit educational institutions in the United States.
Clifford's recovery plan for GCU includes getting top Christian leaders to affiliate themselves with the school. GCU's college of business was renamed for management consultant and author Ken Blanchard. The school of applied psychology has been named for psychologist Kevin Leman. The new management team has also spent more than $6 million on advertising, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and has rapidly expanded online educational programs.
Since the sale, online enrollment has jumped from 1,500 students to 2,900. On-campus enrollment is also up, to 1,750 students from 1,600. The school also has plans to offer online courses to Fortune 500 companies to boost online enrollment.
"We offer values-based education," Clifford said, "and Wall Street needs values."
The school's bottom-line focus may be a shock to some. Blanchard said the new owners told the faculty, "The bad news is the university will no longer be run for the benefit of the faculty. The good news is you'll be getting paid, and paid well."
Robert C. Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, said he is "cautiously optimistic" about developments at GCU.
Clifford preaches what he calls the "four gospels of higher education": (1) lower costswith plans to cut tuition from $14,500 to $7,000 in 2005; (2) increased accessGCU hopes to recruit 15 percent of its students from inner-city schools; (3) faster completion and less debt; and (4) education with a purpose.
Andringa suggests a fifth goaloffering affordable online education to Christians in the Southern Hemisphere.
Blanchard told ct he is excited to be helping inner-city young people. "We just have to look at ways to reach the broken, the downtrodden, the underemployed," Blanchard said. "We can give them jobs, but they can't keep them without learning life skills."
Balancing Christian principles and profits could prove tricky, Andringa said, especially if investors take their company public. But Clifford believes GCU will maintain its Christian emphasis.
"How do you keep a college Christian?" he said. "You keep the faculty Christian." Clifford and the new owners have kept GCU's board of directors intact, and given them responsibility for approving faculty.
The board is self-electing and has no financial stake in the college.
"I don't care if Osama bin Laden buys this school," Clifford said. "The place will remain Christian."
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