Arizona Christian University is Taking Flight!

Image courtesy: ACU

Arizona Christian University (ACU) is the state’s only private, accredited, non-profit Christian university. If you seek a university that is courageously Christian, where relationships and community matter most, while you can develop critical thinking skills that last a lifetime, then ACU is the place for you. Committed to its vision of transforming culture with biblical truth, the school prepares students for successful careers with a wide variety of biblically-integrated majors and areas of study.

Since its founding in 1960, the university has undergone a number of name changes. Originally called Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College, it was later shortened to Southwestern College. The college had been affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Convention until making the decision in 2009 to become non-denominational. In January 2011, its name was officially changed to Arizona Christian University, when it transitioned from a small Bible college to a Christian liberal arts university.

Continuing to produce biblically sound pastors, missionaries, evangelists and worship leaders, ACU also equips Christian leaders for service in education, business,  counseling and communication, and has expanded its majors to produce Christian leaders in government, science, pre-medicine, and pre-law. ACU is a homeschool-friendly, culturally and theologically conservative university where students and their professors are serious about deepening their Christian faith. All four-year campus students receive a minor in Biblical Studies, attend chapel twice a week, actively engage in spiritual formation, and complete service hours each semester.

Academics

For the second straight year, Arizona Christian University has been ranked among the nation’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report – the most respected and comprehensive college ranking system in the nation. It lists ACU as one of the Best Regional Colleges in the West, the only Arizona school in this category.

Most recently, ACU was ranked the Number One University in Arizona by College Consensus, which combines a review of all major national rankings with student experience surveys. Out of all 14 universities in the Grand Canyon state, ACU was the only one to earn a ranking by College Consensus.

“Our students are getting one of the best educations in the country – one that combines academic excellence with a commitment to spiritual formation,” said President Munsil. “We are grateful that the world is noticing what God is doing at ACU.”

New Campus

Arizona Christian University is excited to announce that they are moving from their current location in Phoenix, Arizona, to a new campus in Glendale, Arizona! They will be taking over the 73-year-old home of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which is now owned by Arizona State University and is relocating to downtown Phoenix. The ACU Glendale campus, which has dozens of state-of-the-art academic and student life buildings, is more than three times larger than the old ACU campus. This will give ACU additional room to grow and attract more students.

The move follows the completion of a land exchange agreement through which ACU and ASU exchanged sites of equal value, one campus for the other. ACU gave ASU its current campus on Cactus Road near 24th Street in exchange for the Thunderbird campus on 59th Avenue and Greenway Road. ASU President Michael Crow called it the “best possible outcome,” while Arizona Christian President Len Munsil called it a “win-win-win transaction.” Gary Livingston, who lives near the Glendale campus, is happy to see another university moving in. “I love the idea that Arizona Christian University is going to move in there,” he said.

It’s really nice that a state university and a Christian university, in connection with the local community, were able to cooperate and work together to make this deal. Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers was pleased to say, “I think it’s going to carry Glendale into a new era.” Len Munsil told ACU supporters, “Frankly, this opportunity for ACU and for your students, and all future students, is nothing short of a miracle. We hope you and your student will share in celebrating God’s faithfulness and provision for ACU’s vital mission. Thank you for your support, cooperation, and prayers!”

Exemplary Leadership

If anyone could have made this happen, it was Len Munsil, a constitutional attorney and leader in Christian non-profit and public policy work. A third-generation Arizonan, as a college student in the early 1980s he was editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper at Arizona State University, where he wrote strongly-worded editorials in support of President Ronald Reagan. He’s also a former homeschool dad which shows that he knows how to think outside the box. Len and his wife Tracey homeschooled their children from 1991 through 2005. Munsil was also the Republican nominee for governor in 2006. He’s been president of Arizona Christian University since 2010.

ACU was at capacity at its old campus, and had been evaluating options to provide students and faculty with improved academic and athletic facilities, along with more space for on-campus housing and room for additional classrooms. When President Munsil heard that ASU was moving the Thunderbird School of Global Management to a different location, he approached ASU President Michael Crow with the idea of bringing ACU to the Thunderbird campus. The two universities worked together on the land exchange, which trades properties of equal value. This will enable the preservation of a historic campus at the Thunderbird site, while also bringing a top-ranked educational institution to the city of Glendale.

Campus Comparisons

With the move to Glendale, the ACU campus size increases from fewer than 20 acres to more than 69 acres. The square footage of campus buildings grows from 150,000 square feet to nearly 500,000 square feet including an expansive library (ten times the size of the current library!) and 11 large, tiered auditorium/lecture halls. ACU will gain ample on-campus student housing including resort-style living and a swimming pool, with 518 students able to live on campus compared to just over 200. The number of parking spaces on campus will increase from about 400 spaces at the Cactus campus to nearly 1,100 spaces at Thunderbird, including 195 covered parking spaces. Additional amenities include a coffee shop, a huge student union, and a dining hall, which has a seating capacity of 500, compared to 150 at the old campus.

In addition to a substantially larger ACU Event Center, there will be plenty of space for Firestorm athletic teams to practice and compete on the new campus. Within a few years, all sports (except golf, shooting sports, and swimming) will be able to train on campus. When the Fall 2019 semester begins, they expect to have in place a turf field for soccer and football games, a baseball field, a softball field, and sand volleyball courts. Still under construction will be a multi-purpose arena for basketball, volleyball and gym sports. In the near future, they will be adding a tennis complex and a separate football stadium which will include track and field.

Additionally, ACU now has the benefit of gaining a number of new revenue sources that will come from an existing on-campus hotel, conference services, retail leases, and campus store. These new revenue streams will help ACU to grow while continuing to keep its tuition substantially lower than the average private college.

Student Body

In August 2019, ACU students will arrive for the first time at the former Thunderbird School of Global Management. The Thunderbird campus has been mostly empty since the 2018 spring semester, when Arizona State University, which owns the Thunderbird School, moved its students downtown. ASU had agreed to purchase and merge the school in December 2014, taking on Thunderbird’s $22 million debt, but the move to ASU’s Phoenix campus gives the students more options which in turn created this tremendous opportunity for Arizona Christian University.

ACU’s move to the Glendale campus has been an enormous undertaking, President Len Munsil told The Arizona Republic. As soon as classes finished at the end of May, faculty and classrooms began moving. The college expects about 700 students at the new campus when the new semester begins in August, Munsil said. That doesn’t include the university’s 800 or 900 online and dual enrollment students who don’t attend class on campus.

Only about 400 graduate students were left at the old Thunderbird campus as of December 2017. This was a fraction of the 1,600 students that had once attended the school in the 1990s. Thunderbird spokesman Jay Thorne said the decline was due to market changes and tightened visa restrictions that came after September 11 and impacted international students. “What’s really exciting is to see these buildings that really had a shrinking student population over the last couple of years really come back to life,” said Munsil. At the old campus, ACU was capped at about 620 students. Now the goal is to eventually get up to 2,000, although that’s years down the road.

Historic Significance

The Thunderbird campus was originally a U.S. Army Air Corp pilot training base during World War II. The land for the airfield was a business investment for several famous actors including Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Henry Fonda, who were concerned that America was not training enough pilots for the impending battles of World War II. Thunderbird Field No. 1 opened in 1941 and a 1942 movie, “Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air” starring Gene Tierney and Preston Foster, was largely filmed there. The Thunderbird air base shut down in 1945. The next year, the Thunderbird School was launched there.

Ron Short, president of the Glendale Arizona Historical Society, has been pushing for preservation of the historic landmarks on the site. Short explained how more than 10,000 pilots from 30 nations were trained there to fight in World War II. Original buildings include an air traffic control tower, Founder’s Hall, and one hangar.

ACU will use the tower as the student union, and it will become the “hub” of the campus, Munsil said. Founder’s Hall is under review to decide whether it should be preserved, said Tabitha Perry, who works on special projects for the city planning department. Short told the Glendale city council that the hall and the hangar should be saved, and asked them to add this as a stipulation to the zoning approval, but the council approved the zoning without these requirements. Munsil said the university will determine in a master plan whether any buildings need renovations.

According to The Arizona Republic, ASU officials have not yet decided how the old ACU campus will be used. A spokesman said the university is looking into its options, including selling the property to re-invest in the downtown Thunderbird building.

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