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Grand Canyon University (GCU), a nearly 60-year-old college started by Arizona Baptists, is in the forefront of a trend to turn Christian education into a profit-making enterprise.

Phoenix-based GCU was saved from bankruptcy last year when the school's board of directors sold the institution to a group of Christian investors. Significant Education LLC agreed to buy GCU in January 2004, with plans to transform it into the first for-profit Christian college in the U.S.

Michael K. Clifford, one of GCU's new vice chairmen, said he and other investors were attracted to GCU's "great reputation" and believed they could turn the school into a money-making venture.

"The educational industry is a robust industry on Wall Street," Clifford said. "The eight publicly traded companies are actually doing very well." He hopes to grow the school to rival the University of Phoenix and DeVry University, two of the largest for-profit educational institutions in the United States.

Clifford's recovery plan for GCU includes getting top Christian leaders to affiliate themselves with the school. GCU's college of business was renamed for management consultant and author Ken Blanchard. The school of applied psychology has been named for psychologist Kevin Leman. The new management team has also spent more than $6 million on advertising, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and has rapidly expanded online educational programs.

Since the sale, online enrollment has jumped from 1,500 students to 2,900. On-campus enrollment is also up, to 1,750 students from 1,600. The school also has plans to offer online courses to Fortune 500 companies to boost online enrollment.

"We offer values-based education," Clifford said, "and Wall Street needs values."

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In the Magazine

February 2005

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