Education Means Business at Grand Canyon University

by RaeAnne Marsh

Grand Canyon University’s recently completed campus expansion represents a new business model for educational institutions that its president Brian Mueller believes will help solve two challenges: “We’ve got to figure out a way to provide higher education for far less money than we’re asking students to pay without so much burden on the taxpayer.”

Key was the university’s change from a not-for-profit institution to a for-profit one, enabling it to invite investment. Prior to going public in 2008, GCU spent four years building a highly successful online program, thanks to a major investment by Endeavor Capital. The online program shares the infrastructure of the ground campus — president, deans, accounting department, etc. — and, with 40,000 students around the country, it has been profitable even though tuition rates are low.

“Using efficiencies to reduce tuition levels for students, making it more affordable for them, that accelerates enrollment; and if we provide high-quality, low-cost education at no or little expense to the taxpayer and our investors get a reasonable return, that’s an example of a free-enterprise, investment-based model that everyone wins in,” says Mueller. In the past three years, GCU has been pouring money into its ground campus: $200 million in buildings and $80 million in technology. Mueller anticipates ground enrollment will grow from the current 6,500 students to 15,000 by 2015.

Part of that expansion is the new Colangelo School of Sports Business, launched last October. Unique among sports business programs in that it is part of the business school rather than exercise science or physical education, it offers classes taught by business-trained faculty. “Coursework is key business skills, with specific application to the sports industry,” says Brian Smith, director of the school. Among the tremendously varied directions in which students could pursue careers in the sports market ($400 billion annually) are event management, sports merchandise, video games, endorsements and revenue producers for sports programs that range from youth to professional to international.

Noting GCU’s programs draw upon industry experts, Smith observes, “This is a big-time sports town, and there is a lot of opportunity for students to connect with leaders in the [sports] industry.” For instance, with Colangelo involved with the USA basketball team, GCU students were able to visit the team’s training camp in Las Vegas as it prepared for the Olympics.

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