A closer look at GCU’s academic excellence
A recent article in the Arizona Republic that discussed Grand Canyon University’s remarkable transformation of the last 10 years raised this question: Does our academic excellence measure up to our business success?
Our answer: Unequivocally, yes.
We are extremely proud of the success that GCU has experienced both academically and from a business perspective, particularly in the last five years. Specific to our level of academic excellence, consider the following:
— The Republic article was critical of Grand Canyon’s academic rankings in the U.S. News & World Report survey but did not cite several other academic measures in which GCU scores very well. Industry experts such as Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker (“U.S. News rankings are flimsy at best“), Kevin Carey of Education Sector (“rankings are merely a list of superficial characteristics“), John Tierney of The Atlantic (“rankings are about as good for you as eating potato chips and Gummy Bears for dinner, with maple syrup“) and universities such as Stanford all have questioned the validity of the U.S. News rankings because they mainly measure how rich, prestigious and exclusive colleges are. That’s not what Grand Canyon University is about. The U.S. News rankings also are very backward-looking (using data from 2007, before GCU really began its transformation) and rely on subjective opinions of peer institutions. But there are other statistics that better indicate a university’s academic achievement. Grand Canyon graduates in nursing and education score above 90 percent on professional licensure and assessment tests, and 76 percent of our pre-med grads who apply to medical schools get accepted. On respected measurables such as the Peregrine test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment and the National Survey of Student Engagement, Grand Canyon’s results are equal to or better than traditional peer institutions, including many state universities.
— Our academic offerings are growing in STEM areas such as computer science, information technology and three proposed programs in biomedical, mechanical and electrical engineering.
— Grand Canyon’s six-year graduation rates and retention rates are tracking upward. Based on the trajectory of our most recent classes, our graduation rates are expected to be about 60 percent for the 2011 and 2012 classes, which is equal to or better than many state universities.
— GCU has raised its admission standards to 3.0 and the average incoming GPA for admitted students is approximately 3.5.
— Since 2009, GCU has invested $400 million into the University – well beyond our after-tax profits of $267 million during that time — to improve the quality of academic offerings and the student experience. This infrastructure includes new state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, libraries, student support centers and residence halls in addition to recreational and athletic facilities.
— The Republic article looked back to the most recent public data on faculty pay from 2011, when GCU’s average salary ($50,684) was criticized for being below peer institutions. By 2013, the average salary for full-time traditional campus faculty at GCU had increased to $68,000 – equitable to our peer institutions that also use non-tenured faculty (we instead use a merit-based performance pay model).
— The Republic brought up a lawsuit filed against GCU in 2007 regarding enrollment procedures and the Harkin Report that looked at data from more than five years ago that was critical of for-profit education. Our enrollment strategies today receive consistent high praise from students, families, high school counselors and administrators because of the level of transparency involved in the process. There are no hidden fees. Everything is spelled out clearly for prospective students. The Harkin Report was a politically motivated investigation that took two years at great taxpayer expense. It was issued as a staff report, as opposed to a HELP Committee report, because it couldn’t get enough support from the committee even though Harkin and his fellow Democrats controlled a majority of the committee. The criticism leveled at GCU in the report was largely mischaracterized or inaccurate, which we spelled out in a rebuttal to the report.
— The Republic article also mentioned the amount of money Grand Canyon spends on marketing. As a new and transformed University in the last five years, GCU has invested in marketing in order to increase awareness and build its brand. That has resulted in increased enrollment, which in turn has allowed us to freeze tuition for five successive years. That business practice has resulted in tremendous benefits to students, families and taxpayers. The Republic comment that GCU “uses its Christian image to recruit” is unfair. It is not a marketing tactic. Our Christian mission is observed, lived out and experienced by our faculty, staff and students in the more than 120 community service projects and millions of dollars spent on those projects to improve the community in which Grand Canyon University resides. The local church community has embraced GCU as a Christian university that adds significant value to their church members. This year, nearly 350 students were involved in mission trips to 17 countries.
Statistics and rankings are helpful, but we believe other important characteristics should be considered by parents and students when selecting a university. What kind of instruction will they receive? Will they be taught by actual professors or by graduate assistants? Will their degree lead to a job? Will they be getting their education in a safe campus environment? Is the university giving back to its community in meaningful ways? How much will their education cost?
At GCU , we can answer those questions in a very positive manner.