Grand Canyon University (GCU), located on West Camelback Road in Phoenix, is a regionally accredited, private Christian university that was founded in 1949. The university emphasizes individual attention for both traditional undergraduate students and working professionals in seven colleges: Business, Education, Nursing, Arts and Sciences, Fine Arts and Production, Christian Studies and Doctoral Studies. GCU offers traditional programs on its growing campus in Phoenix and through online degree programs. The university’s curriculum fuses academic and clinical rigor with Christian values to prepare its students to be skilled, caring professionals. For more information about GCU, visit gcu.edu.
Copland: Brian, we all know that our economy and debt are out of control. Can you share with us your thoughts on the current economic situation?
Mueller: First of all, I will admit that I am a free-market capitalist to the core. I believe in the potential to bring prosperity to people, and to bring prosperity to greater numbers of people, in broadening the middle class, and yet for the first time in history, our generation is going to pass on to the next generation a lower standard of living … another first in American history, which is really embarrassing, so the question must be how are we going to get out of it?
There has been an uncontrolled amount of greed, not across the board, but certainly enough from Wall Street, that has created an economic downturn.
Copland: I grew up, as I’m sure you did as well, Brian, with strong family values and core principles. Today, it seems that a major part of the reason we find ourselves in this mess is because today’s society has strayed away from those same family values. What are your thoughts?
Mueller: I don’t think there is any doubt about that. I believe many have strayed from the core values that this country was built on. I grew up in a working-class, middle-class family in Wisconsin. There were eight children; I had six sisters and a brother. The primary cornerstone to our family was faith, and out of that faith came all of the core values that were important to us … character, integrity, honesty and a hard work ethic that were expressed to us on a daily basis. We were taught the need to save, look out for the other person—that work was not a right, but rather it was a privilege to go to work and be able to take care of the family. My dad was often asked, “How is the Mueller family?” and he would typically reply, “Well, some of us have one job, most others have two, but we’re doing fine.” We were a generation that was grateful for what we had, and I think this was because my parents had come through the Depression, so they knew what it was like to have nothing, or near nothing .…
Copland: What is your vision for Grand Canyon University over the coming years?
Mueller: Let me go back to my feelings on capitalism and how it played a key role with this university. Seven years ago, GCU, after a long and storied traditional of being a private-based Christian university of about 1,500 students, was $20 million in debt and was about to go bankrupt. A few people stepped forward and assumed the debt. We changed from a not-for-profit status to a for-profit facility. We created a business plan, sought additional business investment and, in November of 2008, went public and received a huge injection of fresh operating capital.
Today in Arizona, it’s a really interesting situation in that we don’t really have a very strong “traditional private university” system. For example, in California they have seven, Texas has 50 and Michigan has 20. In Arizona, we don’t have that, so my vision, when I think about Villanova in Philadelphia, Marquette in Milwaukee, Xavier in Cincinnati … when I think about those great private traditional universities with a Christian-based foundation, that’s Grand Canyon University.
Today, we have 4,000 students that will grow to 12,000 in three years. We have 40,000 online students going to 60,000. We offer a great education to lower income/middle class families at low and affordable rates, with no expense to the taxpayer. We have a $200 million building fund and are the fastest-growing employer in the state of Arizona. So, out of literally nothing has come something that is benefiting so many people, especially those that live on the west side … and this could only have happened in a capitalist free market system and from people who had a vision.
Copland: What family values and core principles still resonate with you today that you have also brought to the workforce?
Mueller: I believe there are three, and faith is definitely first. It’s the Christian foundation that everyone is important and everyone has value. The second is the privilege of work, and I don’t think we all talk about it enough. I speak to my kids about it all the time, that’s it’s not a right to work. We live in a great country, the most economically prosperous country in the history of the world, and over the course of time we have become unappreciative of the privilege of being able to have a job and the ability to go to work to provide for our families and to pass on a stronger standard of living. That privilege of working is very important. I often tell our staff that we have a job and we are all working for a university that has a strong purpose, so let’s never lose sight of that. And I think the third thing is humility. My mom and dad were very humble people. They deflected praise, and what was important to them was family. They never assumed what tomorrow would bring. They always taught the need for saving, were frugal with their resources and always took care of the important things first. I feel strongly that they felt this way because they both came through the Great Depression.
Copland: Do you have any final comments you would like to share with our readers?
Mueller: At Grand Canyon University, we will have living space for about half of our attending students, a division one athletic program, a fine arts program with music and theater. The cost of higher education in this country is out of control. There is no excuse for it, so at GCU, we will make available a private university education to members of lower income and middle class families for less than it costs to go to a state-run university.
At GCU we intend to take those necessary steps that will provide an affordable, private university education that will change the lives of many generations to come. That’s what we are trying to do here.