A conservative, Christian college has tripled its enrollment in the last decade by establishing a “new model for higher education” that makes college affordable to all socioeconomic classes, the university president told Fox News.
“When families hear that there’s an affordable private Christian university in Phoenix, Arizona, it’s very attractive to come and visit,” Grand Canyon University president Brian Mueller said. “Core competency, we think, is to understand where the economy is going, where the jobs are going to be, how people can build great careers and how they can do it without taking on large amounts of debt.”
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Grand Canyon University, a private Christian college in Phoenix, Arizona, founded in 1949, has grown from 7,602 on-campus students in 2012 to 25,350 in 2022, according to a university spokesperson. Online enrollment also doubled in the last decade.
“Every class is another record-breaking class in terms of numbers,” Mueller said. “In the next 10 years or less it will grow somewhere around 50,000 students. We have acquired the land and have the building process in place to do that.”
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In 2008, Mueller joined GCU as their president when the college had only around 1,000 students. Since then, GCU has invested billions into the campus and grown its academic programs from 100 to 300 for on-campus and online students as students flooded in, the university president said. Mueller attributed some of the university’s growth to the college building up the campus in a disadvantaged neighborhood, freezing tuition costs and offering generous scholarships.
GCU enrollment triples in the last decade as the campus grows in West Phoenix. (Lightvision, LLC via Getty Images)
“We were in a neighborhood that was very, very challenged from a crime perspective, from a poverty perspective,” Mueller said. “But we thought we could use this to create a new model for higher education, one that would make it affordable to all socioeconomic classes of Americans.”
GCU, which is located in West Phoenix, offers free tutoring to local K-12 students and provides a full-tuition scholarship program to local high school students that is meant to encourage more low-income, first generation students to go to their college.
The university also launched several local businesses that generate jobs for students and residents.
“When you’re able to do that, you’re able to fulfill the real goal and objective of higher education, which is to lift all boats,” Mueller said.
“Higher education should be a great democratizing force in our country,” Mueller told Fox News.
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Lower tuition costs have driven student debt down, creating “an environment where socioeconomically we’re extremely diverse,” Mueller said.
The average GCU student paid $9,200 in tuition before scholarships this past year and about $8,897 for room and board on campus, a university spokesperson told Fox News. In 2022, the college offered $180 million in scholarships. Costs are kept low by employing a small staff to serve both in person and online students.
The numbers run counter to other private universities across the country. Average tuition for private institutions increase 4% in 2022-2023 to $39,723, according to an annual U.S. News and World Report survey.
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“We haven’t raised tuition for 10 years,” Mueller said. “And the average student graduates with less debt than the average state university student.”
The average debt level for GCU graduates was $21,557, according to a university spokesperson. In comparison, the debt of college graduates at private institutions averaged $31,820 in 2021, according to a U.S. News and World Report survey of 1,047 colleges.
GCU offers cheaper tuition costs and fees as Ivy League institution’s hover around $80,000. (Michael Fein/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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The university president says he expects GCU to double in size in the next decade.
“We thought in the past small and elite won the day in higher ed,” Mueller said. “The future is going to be very large, very scalable [and] very flexible being able to educate people across the lifespan.”
To watch Mueller’s full interview, click here.
Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.