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Gonzaga Leverages Basketball Success to Boost Academic Mission

College Hall. (Gonzaga University photo)

College Hall marks the main entrance to Gonzaga University; at right are the spires of St. Aloysius Church. (Gonzaga University photo)

By the Numbers: 1999 vs. 2017

SPOKANE, Wash. – As Gonzaga University enters its first Final Four appearance on Saturday following a magical 36-1 season and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament – its 19th consecutive Big Dance – key institutional numbers underscore how Gonzaga has leveraged basketball success to support its academic mission.

Since 1999, when the Zags – led then by Coach Dan Monson – advanced to the Elite Eight in their second NCAA Tournament appearance before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut, Gonzaga’s undergraduate enrollment has risen 83.2 percent, from 2,816 (1998-99) to 5,160 (2016-17).

Other Key Figures 1999 vs. 2017:

  • Total enrollment has increased 86.4 percent (from 4,061 to 7,572)
  • Undergraduate admission applications have grown nearly 300 percent (from 1,841 to 7,342 – as of fall 2016)
  • Freshmen enrollment rose 124.9 percent (from 569 to 1,280)
  • The annual budget rose 289.2 percent (from $72.7 million to $283 million – as of May 31, 2016)
  • To accommodate a larger student body, full-time faculty increased 55.5 percent (from 279 to 434), allowing Gonzaga to maintain a small average class size: 22 students (1998-99), 24 students (2016-17).

Continuity of Leadership

After the 1998-99 season, Monson left to coach at the University of Minnesota and Mark Few was hired from within to replace him. Few has since led GU to 18 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. Few has said Gonzaga’s continuity of supportive leadership has been a key to him staying, along with Gonzaga’s unique culture – both on the team and in the University – that emphasizes a tight-knit community and excellence in athletics, academics, and character.

Father Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., served as Gonzaga’s president for 22 years before Father Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., became president in 1998 – just as Gonzaga’s run began – and served until 2009. After serving in multiple senior leadership positions at Gonzaga – and one year as interim president – Thayne McCulloh became Gonzaga’s first lay president in 2010. President McCulloh was at Gonzaga before the great basketball success, during it, and remains – ensuring the continuity of leadership at the 130-year-old university.

President McCulloh credits Gonzaga’s volunteer leadership – in particular the acumen of members of the boards of Trustees and Regents – for identifying the opportunities presented by the success of basketball to grow enrollment to support academics. As the Zags’ basketball success continued, President McCulloh points to the vision of Gonzaga’s stewards – and unprecedented financial support from benefactors – who recognized how, over the long term, the success of basketball could help the University become a premier institution of higher learning.

“Basketball has been a major factor these 20 years in terms of people’s awareness of the University,” President McCulloh said. “And we’ve certainly not missed the opportunity to capitalize on the success of the team and the appearance they’ve had on the national stage.” The notoriety, he said, invites more people to look at Gonzaga more closely.

McCarthey Athletic Center a Game-Changer

Tony Osborne, associate professor of communication arts at Gonzaga University, explores the impact of contemporary communication on democracy in a lecture titled “Dialogue vs. Narcissism” at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 23 in the McCarthey Athletic Center’s Herak Club Room.

McCarthey Athletic Center. (GU photo by Jennifer Raudebaugh)

A key to Gonzaga’s basketball success was the donation by brothers Phil and Tom McCarthey of the lead gift to build the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center. Opened in 2004, the center provides a first-rate facility critical to recruiting basketball talent. Other major gifts followed. Since 2004, benefactors’ support has allowed Gonzaga to launch 12 major building projects (new buildings or renovations), including facilities under construction: the Jesuit Residence, the Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement and the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center.

Generosity of Donors

  • Gonzaga’s total endowment – critical to its ability to provide an exemplary education at an affordable and competitive cost – has increased 217.7 percent (from nearly $67 million in 1998-99 to $212.9 million as of May 31, 2016).
  • Total donors (individuals and organizations) have increased 89.2 percent (from 7,006 in 1998-99 to 13,261 in 2015-16).
  • Since the mid-1950s, the total number of Gonzaga donors has reached 76,299 (individuals and organizations).
  • Annual fundraising has risen 132 percent (from $13.4 million in 1998-99 to $31.1 million in 2015-16).

Diversity Doubles

Intellectual and cultural diversity are hallmarks of Jesuit education and over the last 19 years Gonzaga’s student body better represents the world. Undergraduate diversity at Gonzaga has more than doubled from 12.4 percent students of color in 1998-99 to 24.9 percent for 2016-17.

Academic Profile Improves

Consistently ranked among the West’s top regional universities for decades, Gonzaga also has boosted its academic profile for students since 1999. The average GPA and SAT composite score for incoming freshmen increased from 3.54 and 1,165 in 1998-99 to 3.76 and 1,203 in the Class of 2020 (best academic class ever). 

Gonzaga Will Campaign

Now, through the Gonzaga Will campaign led by President McCulloh, the University is working to grow its endowment to ensure its fiscal future, and allow for more student scholarships, endowed professorships, and assure it will provide premier education well into the future. The largest campaign in University history began in fall 2015 with a goal of $250 million. So far, Gonzaga has raised $240 million from more than 34,000 donors, including $73 million toward its goal of $100 million in new and endowed scholarships.

While Gonzaga’s success in basketball has resulted in increases to enrollment and fundraising, President McCulloh noted the critical need for private support – particularly in the area of student scholarships – to sustain excellence.

He thanked all benefactors for their continued support and generosity:

“It is through your help that we will continue to ensure that a Gonzaga education remains affordable, that our academic and mission foundation is appropriately resourced to our aspiration, that our learning and living facilities are relevant to the demands of delivering an exemplary education, and that we recognize the essential commitment to global engagement,” President McCulloh said.

Alumni Pride Explodes, Career Focus Efforts Increase

Gonzaga Alumni Reunion Weekend 2016. (Photo by Edward Bell)

Gonzaga Alumni Reunion Weekend 2016. (Photo by Edward Bell)

Since 2005, Gonzaga has launched active alumni chapters in 37 locations worldwide with graduates in more locations eager to form chapters. During this time, Gonzaga has intensified its efforts to ensure students get jobs. GAMP (Gonzaga Alumni Mentoring Program) is but one example of how the University – through its career and professional development services – has leveraged athletic notoriety to help graduates find jobs. More than 94 percent of Gonzaga graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees with the class of 2016 reported they are either employed (full- or part-time), continuing their education or serving as volunteers or in the military, according to Gonzaga’s 2016 Destination Survey Report.

Histories of Spokane, Gonzaga Intertwined

Gonzaga was founded inn 1887, six years after Spokane was incorporated. (GU photo)

Gonzaga was founded in 1887, six years after Spokane was incorporated. (GU photo)

“Gonzaga and Spokane have grown up together. Their histories are intertwined,” President McCulloh said. The city was incorporated in 1881; Gonzaga was founded six years later by Italian-born Father Joseph Cataldo, S.J. “We sincerely hope our success brings recognition and attention to Spokane and the many wonderful aspects of this community.”

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