Mike on America

Grand Canyon U: Home Of The 'Fighting Antelopes'


Okay, so what does a 'Fighting Antelope' look like exactly?

It's the mascot of Grand Canyon University, and I have to admit I added the 'Fighting' part. The mascot is actually just the antelope.

"I'm not crazy about it, and we did think hard about changing it. But when you've got 20,000 alumni you have to be careful." So says Brent Richardson, the CEO of GCU. That's right, the CEO, not the President, or the Chancellor, but the CEO. He runs this school like a business, because it is.

"When we bought it, it was three days away from going bankrupt," says Richardson as we walk across some of the 90 acres that make up the campus of this now private, for-profit, university on the west side of Phoenix. It was opened in 1949.

"We were called one of the 'best kept secrets' in education. And that's not good if you're trying to raise money to start new programs. You don't want to be a secret," says Kathy Player. She's the Provost and Chief Academic Officer. "When they told us the day we came back from Christmas vacation that we had no money, we were devastated."

In walked Brent Richardson. Entrepreneur, businessman, someone who had made his money in 'online' education. He bought the place: "I saw an opportunity, a chance, to put the online elements together with the 'hard' elements of a real campus, and build something."

And so far it has worked. There were 15 hundred students on campus when Richardson took over in September of 2003. Today Grand Canyon University boasts 13,000 students enrolled. Five thousand or so attending classes on campus, the rest do their classes on line. There are students physically here from 6 or 7 Western States. There are online students enrolled from 61 different countries.

And GCU, once 15 million in debt, is now making money, planning 125 million in improvements, and expects to have 25,000 students by 2009.

The question is, why bother? With the buildings I mean. Why have a campus at all? If it's the online portion that is growing the fastest and it's the one that makes the most money, and if building something like a swimming pool doesn't 'pencil out', why do it? Why have sports teams? Yes, sports teams and they're adding more. Does it make good business sense?

For Brent Richardson it does: "You'd be surprised how many of those online students show up for graduation. How many of them want to make that 'walk', that want to feel and see the buildings. They want to know that there is something 'real' behind that degree."

And there is. Now, about the antelope. "The 'Lopes', we call them the 'Lopes'," Richardson says with a smile. Hey look at it this way, nearby is one of the best know community colleges in the country, Scottsdale Community College. You know what their mascot is? The Artichoke. 'Nuf said.

'MOA' is roaming the Southwest all week. Keep your eyes on "Power Lunch" for this and other segments.

Guacamole anyQuestions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com