As universities across the country face enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grand Canyon University will begin the 2020-21 school year with another increase in the number of traditional students connected to its Phoenix campus.

The private Christian university expects its largest incoming class ever of more than 8,200 new students when the fall semester begins Sept. 8, bringing total campus-based enrollment to approximately 23,000. An additional 85,000+ mostly working adult students are attending GCU’s online campus.

“The increase in enrollment is a reflection of several factors,” said GCU President Brian Mueller. “One, it speaks to the increasing number of students and families who are interested in a private Christian education that is also affordable. Higher education has become far too expensive and students are taking on too much debt, but our financial model has allowed us to freeze tuition costs on the Phoenix campus for 12 straight years and offer tuition and room/board levels that are attractive to all socioeconomic classes of Americans. As a result, our graduates take out about $10,000 less in debt than the average at public and private universities.

“Two, the community atmosphere on our campus, even amidst a pandemic, is a significant reason students are choosing GCU. Students really want to be part of this environment. And three, given our expertise and experience in online learning technologies, students are very confident in our ability to deliver education in a blended learning model for the fall semester and incorporate aspects of remote learning throughout the curriculum. Both our online and ground students use the same state-of-the-art LoudCloud learning management system, which helps make the transition between the two learning modalities seamless.” 

The first three weeks of the fall semester, which begins Sept. 8, will occur in an online format for the vast majority of students. A blended model of in-person instruction then begins Sept. 28 and the fall semester will conclude Dec. 18.

Traditional ground students in most academic programs have the option to choose the learning modality that best fits their individual circumstances – going 100% online for the fall semester or returning to campus for a blended model of instruction with COVID-19 safety and testing protocols in place.

For the fall semester, approximately 4,700 traditional ground students have opted to take classes fully online. About 2,000 evening cohort students on the Phoenix campus have also been transitioned to an online modality for the fall semester.

For those students returning to campus, they will be part of an environment in which safety measures will adhere to all CDC and local health guidelines while modifications will be made to replicate the robust community atmosphere that GCU is known for. Safety protocols include face mask requirements, physically distant classrooms, COVID-19 testing for as many as 10,000 individuals per month, increased sanitization protocols, plexiglass barriers, increased outdoor activities, additional outdoor seating and shade structures for GCU’s 32 on-campus restaurants, event accommodations to provide physical distancing and stringent visitor guidelines.

“The health and safety of the campus community is our highest priority,” Mueller said. “The social events that GCU is known for will occur in smaller groups. For example, instead of having 6,000-7,000 students in GCU Arena for Chapel every week, those services will be spread out among four venues on campus and can also be viewed online via live streaming. Movie nights and other events will also be spread out among more venues. Life Groups, club activities and residence hall and commuter events will occur in small group settings. We will also have virtual job fairs and networking events to connect students to our many industry partners and employers.”

As the 2020-21 academic year begins, another new apartment-style residence hall has opened – Ponderosa Apartments. Ponderosa can house 600 students, bringing the total number of residence halls on campus to 23 and the total number of beds to approximately 14,000. GCU’s residence halls are rated No. 6 out of 1,384 schools in the country by based on student surveys, affordability and safety. Three more apartment-style residence halls are being planned for 2021-22.

GCU at a glance

Campus Enrollment: 23,000 (up from less than 1,000 traditional-age students in 2008)

2020 Incoming Class: More than 8,200 new students

2020 Average Incoming GPA: 3.5 for fully admissible students

Honors College Average Incoming GPA: 4.1 (Honors College now has more than 2,500 students)

Tuition Freeze: 12 straight years on ground campus, with only nominal increases in online tuition during that time

Best College Campuses in America: No. 19 out of 1,417 in rankings

Best College Dorms in America: No. 6 out of 1,384 in rankings

Average Class Size: Less than 25 students

Academic Offerings: More than 270 degrees, emphases and certificates are offered in nine different colleges

Online Enrollment: More than 85,000