Neighborly love drives economic powerhouse campus

Take a rundown college in a high crime area and turn it into a multi-billion dollar economic powerhouse that sprouts jobs and new development, raises nearby home values, lowers crime, and sends student volunteer tutors into 80 local schools six days a week.      

Those are just a few neighborly things going on at Grand Canyon University (GCU) in west Phoenix on Camelback Road between 31st and 35th Avenue.   

All it took was a lot of heart. And Brian Mueller.  

Mueller, president of GCU, just celebrated his first decade at the Christian university. When he arrived in the summer of 2008 as CEO, he began with a promise to “go beyond working for ourselves” and to be good neighbors, true to his faith.

Since then, more than $1 billion in new infrastructure and technology has been invested to expand the campus. Enrollment on campus and online programs has gone from 13,500 to almost 90,000 students.

A plan to revitalize the area has been transforming surrounding communities.

The results speak for themselves:

Jobs off campus GCU has launched eight new business enterprises that provide management opportunities for graduates and employment opportunities for students and residents. These include the new GCU Hotel, Canyon 49 Grill, GCU Golf Course, Lope House Restaurant, Grand Canyon Beverage Company, Canyon Promotions merchandise, Canyon Worship Christian music recordings and Canyon Advertising.

Jobs on campus Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education have a combined workforce of more than 10,000 on its campus, which has grown from 100 acres to 270 in 10 years.

Increased home values Students and staff at GCU community have created the largest home renovation project in the country with Habitat for Humanity, helping to raise nearby property values. The university raised more than $7 million and has rehabilitated 200 of its 800-home goal. Home values in the zip code have increased 65 percent. The median listing price went from $100,000 to $165,000 in the past four years, according to

Reduced crime Seven years ago, the university committed $1.6 million to partner with the Phoenix Police Department to increase safety in areas surrounding the campus by paying for officers’ overtime to increase patrols and undercover operations to reduce gang activity, drug dealing and prostitution. In the first five years, property crimes decreased 26.8 percent compared to a 3.8 percent drop city-wide. Violent crimes decreased 8.6 percent compared to a 13 percent increase citywide, according to FBI crime reporting statistics.

Free tutoring for neighborhood kids About 1,200 GCU students volunteer to tutor K-12 students at 80 inner city schools six days a week in the university’s Learning Lounge program. Each year, 100 high school seniors in the program get full-tuition scholarships to GCU. In turn, they volunteer for Learning Lounge when they become college students. To date, 300 have received scholarships.

All this activity and more is driving $1 billion into the surrounding community and state economy each year, according to an economic impact analysis of the school’s activities by the Elliott D. Pollack & Co.

Mueller, who just oversaw the university’s transfer to non-profit status, said plans for more expansion and community outreach will not stop.  

“We believe that in inner city neighborhoods that are comprised mostly of immigrants, you just need to harness the ambition of that population and create business opportunities that will get them employed and make them want to stay and build their neighborhoods,” Mueller said. “We hope this will become a model for how things can be done in inner cities.”

Victoria Harker

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