By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
When it comes to college, it isn’t just about the lectures and the libraries. It’s just as much about the food, the residence halls and that most intangible of things when it comes to college life – the vibe.
Grand Canyon University touts a stellar showing when it comes to campus life: In the 2018 rankings compiled by Niche.com, GCU was No. 7 on the Best College Campuses in America list, beating out No. 8 Stanford University, No. 9 James Madison and No. 10 Rice University. The list, which ranks 1,411 schools, celebrates colleges that score high in campus resources, such as classrooms, labs, performance venues, housing, food and recreational facilities. The poll uses key statistics, including data from the U.S. Department of Education, and, most importantly, is based largely on student reviews.
This is the second consecutive year GCU has made the Best College Campuses Top 10. The University nabbed the No. 8 spot in 2017.
It isn’t the only recognition the campus received in regard to campus life.
GCU also was noted for its top-notch residence halls. It’s No. 6 out of 1,371 colleges on Niche’s Best College Dorms in America for 2018. Niche says top-ranked colleges offer outstanding campus housing that is safe and clean with modern amenities at reasonable prices.
It’s no wonder the campus is being lauded for its residence halls. Students love new, and several of the University’s 20 residence halls are just that, including the on-trend Cactus and Jerome halls on the prospering east side. The structures – each is six stories with more than 600 beds — feature apartments with private bedrooms, common living rooms, full kitchens and bathrooms shared by three and four apartment mates.
This month, GCU is welcoming about 12,000 students into residence housing, many of them from out of state. That’s an increase from the approximately 10,500 who called the campus home in 2017-18. Three more apartment-style buildings will be added next year to keep up with increasing enrollment.
On Aug. 6, 323 Resident Assistants (RA’s) began meetings to prepare for the arrivals. “We’re excited and there’s a lot of energy for the new year,” said Residence Life Director Matt Hopkins.
Hopkins said many universities open on-campus housing to freshmen only. That’s not the case at GCU, where students can stay on campus beyond their freshman year.
He said of GCU’s impressive Best Dorms ranking, “Obviously, we have brand new buildings and great amenities, and those help contribute to making this a great place to live. … But then there’s the secret sauce, which is community, whether it’s the Havocs, the basketball or the service that takes place on campus. Students want to live with their friends. They want to be in community. It’s the culture of respecting others, caring for others and living and growing. Sure, we have the buildings, the pools, the apartments with single bedrooms. But in the end, it’s all about community.”
Riley Smith, a senior music education major, said it’s easy to see why GCU is getting the spotlight for its stellar residence halls: “There are just a lot of options. I know a lot of people stay on campus all four years.” He himself chose to live in campus housing for three years before moving off campus this year.
Outside of the dorms, Smith loves that GCU offers seemingly endless ways for students to become involved and, like Hopkins said, to become rooted in a unique campus community. “There’s a lot of campus involvement — so many social activities and a lot of opportunities to meet people,” Smith said.
“They care so much about student life,” added Leanne Lindahl, a sophomore nursing student. “It’s not just about school; it’s not just about the logistics. Really, they put the emphasis on students feeling counted and involved, and they center their whole vision on Christ and every student. That all starts from up top.”
Outside of campus life, GCU is making its mark academically as one of the country’s Best Online Colleges. It is listed as No. 7 out of the 145 schools in that category.
Rick Holbeck, Executive Director of Full-Time Online Instruction, said the impressive ranking has a lot to do with the full-time online faculty. The University stands out in that its online faculty members aren’t lone wolves who teach from remote locations and rarely see each other. They work together in the same place, in the 27th Avenue Office Building, which makes problem-solving, support and collaboration much easier.
And there’s also the amount of effort the online faculty members make to connect with students. For example, they call students to introduce themselves before the start of a course: “I feel like it’s the amount of support we can offer, especially at the beginning of their programs,” Holbeck said. “There are other universities that have full-time online faculty, but they don’t make the phone calls (to students) we do.”
Connections are even more important in campus life. Director of Student Engagement Jeremy Mack noted that there were almost 20 new clubs last year, bringing the total to 126, and more than 500 social events. This year, Mack’s staff is introducing the new GCU Engage app.
“All to help students connect with one another and build that campus culture,” he said.
Sophomore sociology major Genesis Da Silva said, “There’s a lot of things that make GCU a great campus — definitely the people here, the workers, the staff. Their main goal is to make sure students are cared for. The professors — here they reach out to you and want you to succeed. There’s just a lot of opportunities to grow.”
Jasmine Lamberson, a sophomore nursing student, added, “Everyone here is all just super positive and willing to encourage their peers. The goal is to equip students for the real world as people (beyond the academics).”
“To be good all-around members of society,” Lindahl said.
Senior psychology major Hannah Wegner — who’s also a student worker, student leader and RA — said what amazes her about GCU are the new amenities that pop up every year. Besides the new residence halls, new and returning students this semester will see the new Canyon Activities Center, Colangelo College of Business building and another parking garage. “I don’t see any other schools building so rapidly,” she said.
But what she really loves about being here is the inclusive culture: “It’s important for students to see that and to see how we love on everybody,” Wegner said. As an RA, she sees firsthand “how our residents are loved on every day.”
The private, Christian campus grows that sense of love with Chapel, a spiritual touchstone to help the campus kick off the school week, along with The Gathering worship session for students. Attendance at both is voluntary, but both regularly draw large crowds.
Add to that the University’s dedication to mission work and serving the community, such as GCU’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity to improve the west Phoenix neighborhood it calls home, and initiatives such as the Learning Lounge, which offers tutoring to inner-city high school students in the Canyon Corridor.
And let’s not forget about basketball and, of course, the Havocs. The raucous student cheering section that occupies almost half of GCU Arena’s 7,300 seats states that its mission “is to be the most spirited, energetic and disruptive student section in the country.” The Havocs have accomplished that mission – and they add immensely to that Best College Campus vibe.
Campus Recreation Director Matt Lamb chalks up part of the vibrant campus life to all the intramurals, club sports — GCU touts the largest club sports program in the nation — and recreational activities. There are five turf fields for intramurals and will be 10 courts in the Canyon Activities Center.
The University furthers the sense of community off campus with GCU Outdoor Recreation hiking trips to places such as Camelback Mountain and Fossil Springs, surfing trips to San Clemente, Calif., and backpacking at Ice Lake Basin in Colorado, for example.
In Lamb’s view, what makes GCU so awesome is how it empowers its students, promoting an environment of students leading students: “At the end of the day, it goes back to the culture we have. Students are passionate about engaging the community.” More than that, he said, “We have such a genuine goal to be relational. We try to build genuine relationships, and that catches fire, so to speak.”
Mack said so many factors go into making GCU such a great campus, but for him, it all starts with one thing: “It’s the type of students that choose to come here. We really have some of the best students.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at email@example.com or at 940-639-7901.