Amidst the many things that have changed during Grand Canyon University’s remarkable transformation of the past decade, one thing has not: the cost of tuition.
For the 13th consecutive year, the private Christian university has announced it will be freezing tuition rates on its Phoenix campus. Tuition before institutional scholarships are factored in will remain at $16,500 for the 2021-22 academic year. Because more than 90% of GCU students qualify for institutional scholarships that totaled nearly $160 million in 2020, that brings the average tuition cost in 2020-21 to approximately $8,900, which is comparable to public universities and well below other private schools. That total does not include federal aid such as Pell grants and subsidized student loans or external scholarships that lower students’ out-of-pocket expenses further. In addition to tuition, GCU students pay an average of roughly $900 annually in fees, which is often much less than both public and private universities.
According to data from the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid Report,” since 2008-09 when GCU began its tuition freeze, the average cost for tuition and fees at four-year public colleges has risen 40% to $10,560, while it has risen 32% to $37,650 at four-year private institutions.
GCU also remains very competitive when it comes to room and board. The average cost of room and board at a four-year public college rose to $11,620 in 2020-21 and to $13,120 at a four-year private institution, according to the College Board. GCU’s average room and board cost is just $8,128 even though nearly all of the modern residence halls have been built in the past 10 years and roughly 50% of the university’s beds are single-occupancy, apartment-style living.
As a result, graduates at GCU are incurring less debt (an average of $20,168 according to 2016-18 data from College Scorecard) than the national average at public and private nonprofit colleges ($28,950 according to 2019 data from the Institute for College Access and Success). GCU graduates’ average debt is also less than the average at schools in Arizona ($24,712).
“We feel very blessed that we have been able to invest nearly $1.5 billion into our campus infrastructure in the last 12 years to keep up with the growth of the university,” GCU President Brian Mueller said of the on-campus enrollment boom that has seen the student body grow from less than 1,000 traditional students in 2008 to 23,000 in ground enrollment today, with over 270 academic programs. “We have been able to do that by using our cash reserves without passing those costs on to students through increases in tuition.”
Studies show that as tuition costs increase on college campuses, diversity decreases. With 13 straight years of frozen tuition prices, Mueller said the result has been a high-quality student body that is also very diverse with 46% students of color, including 28% Hispanic and 6% African-American.
“We have a number of different initiatives that address diversity both on our campus and in our community,” Mueller said, “but the single biggest differentiator has been our ability to make private Christian education affordable to all socioeconomic classes of Americans. That creates equality of opportunity for everyone.”