Grand Canyon University of Phoenix, Arizona was founded in 1949 as a non-profit Christian liberal arts college. The college, which assumed university accreditation in the mid 90’s, was originally affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination however it separated in 1999 among rumors of financial misuse. In 2004 the then struggling non-profit was purchased by a group of investors with the goal of going for-profit and hitting the stock market floor. The group of investors quickly developed and expanded the online programs that the university had in place and became publically traded by November of 2009 (Gonzales, 2009).
A SWOT Analysis of Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University has several strengths; among the for-profit industry it continues to offer a faith based product. The University has also maintained regional accreditation in addition to a strong online presence with a broad demographic (PBS, 2010). Grand Canyon University’s generous profit margin of 64% gives the university a cushion for ‘growing pains’ (Reuters, 2010). Among Grand Canyon’s weaknesses is customer service; prevalent on all levels of the University especially in the online ANGEL classrooms. Grand Canyon University staff, being young in the for-profit sector is poorly educated on the financial aid process and students often miss out on valuable scholarships and grants that other schools are able to award in a timelier manner.
The University mission and vision statements suggest a minimal effort to put forward a Christian image. These vision and mission statements are where GCU has a huge opportunity to capture the for-profit faith based market. Grand Canyon also has the opportunity to offer an affordable housing product to the ground student population; a population significant for continued University credibility. This leads to the two big threats to the continued success of Grand Canyon University; regulation of the for-profit education market by the Federal Government and continued online and distance learning expansion by state universities offered at a much lower cost (NAU, 2009). Although Grand Canyon offers prices that are competitive with other Corporate Universities such as DeVry and University of Phoenix, in order to offer sustainability to its stakeholders it must consider prices and services that compete with these upcoming state schools.
A New Strategic Objective for Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University has seen much financial success as well as tremendous online growth since the acquisition of 2004. The Strategic Objective over the past 7 years as a for-profit has been to grow the profit margin while expanding a market presence and maintain a faith based value system (GCU, 2010). Recently there has been an urgent push to build on seemingly every square inch of campus in an effort to attract ground students and establish a stronger community presence. Although the pursuit of profit has worked for a time, and building new buildings may show good intentions as well as responsible property management, the time has come to change the focus.
As a Christian University for-profit or not, one cannot keep growth and profits as the core focus and expect to grow and profit for long. Grand Canyon University must answer a higher call if it expects to succeed for as a faith based company indeed a higher expectation is given. Grand Canyon University must adhere to their mission statement promise to produce “responsible global citizenship” and become the leader by becoming the example (GCU, 2010). Grand Canyon must entrust their employees with the authority to give exceptional customer service in what is rapidly becoming a customer service dependent industry (PBS, 2010). Consider any blog on the internet and one can see that the image GCU has is bad customer service and poor financial aid handling; couple this with the latest advertising craze “find your purpose” and one can see that GCU portrays an organization in identity crisis as best (GCU, 2010; Student Reviews, 2010). Although Grand Canyon University has maintained a generous profit margin and boasts short term success, in order for the organization to become sustainable over the long term it must develop a new vision, mission and marketing statement as well as some key changes to the organizational structure that will allow it to adhere to the “servant leadership” model it teaches (GCU, 2010).
A New ‘Student Customer’ Focused Vision/Mission/and Marketing Plan
Much like Southwest Airlines, GCU needs to develop a vision and mission statement with a focus that is short and obtainable (Southwest, 2009). A great vision statement is one that is not only contagious to employees but to potential customers everywhere. The current vision of GCU is not a vision at all it is a rhetorical statement, “Grand Canyon University is a premier Christian university educating people to lead and serve” (GCU, 2010); this statement needs to flash forward to where GCU is going. The vision statement needs to be a picture of the end results expected by the mission statement. One must then review the mission statement before reflecting on the vision further.
The mission statement of GCU is too long for an employee or a ‘student customer’ to grasp. It is poorly written and without focus again reflecting a University in ‘identity crisis.’ The mission statement speaks more about the curriculum than the culture and places more infuses on a vague definition of value systems rather than setting a reasonably identifiable expectation for both employee and customer. The mission statement is not even readable in some parts and absent of responsibility in others; “It would be difficult to completely and accurately quantify what an individual student might take away from a values based education. The reason for the difficulty stems from the fact that being made in the image of God also means the learner is a free moral agent and has the right to choose his or her values” (GCU, 2010). Finally the mission statement is filled with insignificant information. Grand Canyon University must “find its purpose” and define it in the mission statement (GCU, 2010).
A new mission statement for Grand Canyon University might look something like the following: Grand Canyon University is committed to preparing ‘student customers’ to become effective global citizens and servant leaders equipped with well developed curriculum taught from a Biblical world view. The reflection of Christ through exceptional teaching and customer service to an ever-expanding global marketplace is a central component of the Grand Canyon University culture. This mission statement incorporates the organizational goals, values and statement of faith so there is no need to repeat it again. The new vision would stem from this mission statement and could read something like: Grand Canyon University, equipping ‘student customers’ for the global market place and raising the expectations for Corporate Universities worldwide. This new vision is then condensed into a new marketing slogan that inspires both ‘student customers’ and employees; “Raise Your Expectations”…of yourself, of your University, of your education.
Goals for GCU
Grand Canyon University must take swift action to harness a new image and construct a new ‘student customer’ orientated culture. In addition to defining a statement of purpose and forming that into a new mission and vision statement there are a number of tactical issues that must be resolved. The University can offer a quick resolve to the customer service problems that it has been plagued with by dividing the campus into a ground division and an online division. When one chooses to shop in person at Nordstrom’s they expect a very different shopping experience than when they choose to shop online and this is true with online versus ground education as well. Ground service and financing is very different than that of online and therefore they must be divided as such. To quickly change the image from bad customer service to great the University could implement a way to award and publicize great customer service experiences (Bregman, 2009); this would start the ball rolling with advertizing as well as encouraging good customer service through “peer pressure” (Bregman, 2009).
Grand Canyon University needs ground students so it must make their tuition as well as room and board affordable to ground students no matter what the cost. Even if the university takes a loss on ground students it will still have a win/win situation in regards to credibility if it is able to grow and maintain a ground presence; the online profits will more than make up the difference. Finally, the University classroom system ANGEL has a reputation of being difficult to use and unfriendly; while technicians have struggled to upgrade the system it suffers much criticism. The University would do well to upgrade to a live streaming classroom over the next three years. This would offer a better classroom experience and although the technical issues may persist, the customer service would improve therefore making the experience less frustrating.
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Gonzales, Angela. (2009). Grand canyon university pays $50 million for campus plans major
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