My Tour of Grand Canyon University
The public education system is broken. As homeschoolers, we recognize this enough to have extracted our children from the system in order to give them a better education. It’s all fun and games until high school when we start to panic about what comes next. Some of us continue to rail against the system and take the public universities off the table. We want our students to continue to get a Christian education. So, what are our options? As we start to look at private Christian universities, we have two reactions: Sticker shock and Reality Check. Sticker shock is obvious, private schools are EXPENSIVE! The reality check is that moment when you realize that you are going to pay (or go into debt for) a liberal arts degree that will result in a job in education or Christian ministry, neither of which will pay enough to get out of debt quickly. There is nothing wrong with a student wanting a career in education or Christian ministry, we need lots of them! But are those the only ways to have a sacred career? Don’t we need Christian doctors, lawyers, engineers, and actuaries? So, we circle back to the state schools, drop off our kids and pray they can keep their faith through the college years. There must be a better way!
This week, I was invited to tour Grand Canyon University. They have a unique and inspiring story of rising from the ashes of bankruptcy with 900 students in 2009 to approximately 22,500 on-campus and 80,000 students online. It’s a beautiful story of God’s redemption and blessing in the face of enormous opposition. The university used a self-sustaining, investor-supported model and built a state-of-the-art facility that provides degree plans in business, doctoral studies, education, fine arts, humanities, social sciences, nursing, health care, science, engineering, technology, and theology. They write all their own curriculum to include the Christian Worldview in every discipline. Last year, they bought out all their investors and returned to a Non-Profit status. GCU did all of this without raising tuition and have frozen tuition through 2021.
The campus is student-leader driven and no outside organizations are allowed on campus to protect the students’ roles as leaders. This means that if a student wants to start a global missions organization, they do it. They have 125 weekly Bible studies on campus, all student-led. Student leaders are paid in scholarships. This gives the campus a sense of community that is unique and encouraging.
GCU is located in what used to be a difficult neighborhood in Phoenix (ask me, I used to live nearby). When they started to grow and expand, many people expected them to move to a “safer part of town”. President Brian Mueller had other plans. This humble, soft-spoken, godly man (who also has a great sense of humor) decided instead to stay and revitalize the area. He bought out all the unsavory businesses around the university and built up the campus in their place. This created lots of jobs for the residents of the surrounding neighborhood and employees were offered free tuition for their children. President Mueller started tutoring programs in the failing schools nearby giving GCU students a tangible way to serve the kids in their community. Scores in those schools have increased and students are being blessed on both sides.
As I toured the campus, I felt extremely safe. Even though I am familiar with the difficult area that surrounds it. GCU is completely gated with guard shacks at each gate. They have their own campus security police force that partners with the City of Phoenix Police Department to keep the area safe. There are the usual blue safety poles throughout campus where students can call for help if needed. The students I spoke to have only used them to ask for an escort from their car to their dorm, which is a wise plan for young college girls no matter what neighborhood they are in.
President Mueller is a brilliant businessman. He started spinning businesses off left and right, hiring students and using the profits to keep tuition low. For instance, he got tired of seeing Papa John’s delivery cars and Starbucks coffee on campus. He said, “We have Ph.D.’s running around all over this place, surely we can make pizza and coffee.” So began Canyon Pizza and Grand Canyon Beverage Company, as well as a marketing company, golf course, hotel, and Canyon 49 restaurant. All these businesses provide jobs for students and the community.
One of my favorite business ventures on the GCU campus is the old abandoned Swap Mart that President Mueller purchased and turned into an innovation center. It now houses 22 start-up companies. He allows the businesses to use the facility FOR FREE in exchange for them hiring students for internships and jobs, giving them real-world business experience. It’s a win-win for the community and the students!
Grand Canyon University puts great importance on serving the community. To this end, they have partnered with Habitat for Humanity and have a goal of fixing up 800 homes in their neighborhood. Students are involved in hands-on projects painting, landscaping, and other home improvements. They have completed 250 of their 800 houses so far. As a result, home values have gone up in the area 300%, and the gospel message is going out with a powerful “help first” approach.
Speaking of the gospel, Grand Canyon is a Christian University and that is evident in their curriculum and community focus. However, unlike other Christian Universities, participation in religious services like Chapel is completely voluntary. President Mueller believes this is the time for students to make their faith their own and that forced involvement would not encourage the right kind of participation. I attended a Monday morning Chapel service and was blown away. The basketball arena was packed with thousands of students taking time out of their busy Monday to worship the Lord. The stacks of student skateboards outside the arena spoke volumes about the number of kids inside. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Grand Canyon University has to offer our homeschooled students. Did I mention they are a Division 1 school with teams in Basketball, Soccer, Volleyball and even Esports? Not to mention the Club Sports, Intramurals, and abundance of outdoor and indoor facilities to encourage all kinds of sports and exercise. They also have clubs for hiking and camping and enjoying all that the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer!
Now let’s talk cost. GCU is upfront and honest about their fees and the true cost your student will face to attend school there and live on campus. Tuition is capped at $16,500 per year. A double occupancy room will run about $5,000 (there are cheaper and more expensive options). The most expensive meal plan is $2,700 (again, you can purchase less). Their annual fees will run $1,810. Right off the bat, your student will earn a scholarship based on their GPA. The highest of these scholarships is $9,750 per year and the least is $3,000 per year. There are early registration awards of up to $1,000 and homeschoolers associated with ALPHA (ask me, I can hook you up) get another small scholarship. These are just the scholarships awarded upon registration. You can also apply for outside scholarships, grants, and federal loans. In my personal experience, this was much cheaper than sending my son to an in-state school.
Another way to save money is by utilizing dual credit courses during high school. GCU offers its own dual credit program online. Students can take 7-week courses that count for both high school and college credit. They cost about $300 (including the book) and are worth 4 credit hours (college). Passing one class alone can save about $2000 in total tuition costs later. Grand Canyon allows you to bring in up to 40 hours of transferable dual credit. Homeschoolers have a significant advantage of being able to take lots of dual credit! This will drastically decrease both the time and cost of getting an undergraduate degree, most students graduate in 3-3.5 years. These credits will transfer to just about any university (except Ivy League schools) and you can also bring in dual credit earned at the community college.
Grand Canyon University understands that our students’ abilities cannot be judged by standardized test scores or GPA alone, so they look at both and reward scholarships in whichever way best benefits the student. If their test scores aren’t great but they have a fantastic GPA, they will be awarded scholarships based on the GPA instead of the test scores. I highly recommend talking to an admissions counselor or homeschool consultant (like myself) before you submit your final transcript to any school. There are ways homeschoolers can customize their transcripts for the best outcomes at each individual college or university.
There may be other Christian Universities out there that are providing private, Christian, affordable education in Liberal Arts as well as STEM disciplines, but I have not heard of them. If you have a college-bound homeschooler, you should definitely add GCU to your list of universities to consider.