ACU History

Founded in 1960 as Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College, Arizona Christian University is a regionally accredited, private, non-profit Christian liberal arts university in Phoenix, Arizona.

The university traces its roots to Ida Clouse, a Christian missionary and registered nurse who left the Midwest in 1917 and moved to Arizona under the Homestead Act where she opened the Clouse Ranch, which soon became a popular Christian retreat center. Upon her death in 1959, Clouse left 35 acres of her ranch to the Arizona Baptist Convention for the creation of a Christian college.

Since its founding in 1960, the university has undergone a number of name changes, including Southwestern College, until its name was finally changed to Arizona Christian University in January 2011 in recognition of its growth from a small Bible college to a Christian liberal arts university. Previously, the university was affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Convention until the university made the decision in 2009 to transition to a non-denominational Christian liberal arts university.

In 1965, Dr. Wallace Woods, the first College President (1965-1975), wrote: “We want to be current in our thinking and up-to-date in our methods. We want to be relevant to the changing needs of people. Nevertheless, there are foundations upon which we stand as a Bible college, and we fix our anchor in the authority of the scriptures. By God’s grace we want to be flexible in the application of Biblical principles to the training of students for effective service in their respective careers and yet hold steadfastly to the Statement of Faith which has characterized the College since its founding.”

That commitment to Scripture continued under the presidential leadership of Dr. Donald H. Launstein (1975-1982), Dr. Kenneth Stephens (1982-83), Dr. Wesley A. Olsen (1983-1992), Dr. Donald R. Engram (1992-95), and Dr. Brent D. Garrison (1995-2010).

Today, Arizona Christian University continues to hold fast to its foundations, and remains committed to equipping students who are followers of Jesus Christ with a sound biblical foundation for ministry and professional occupations.

As more students attended the college, majors and minors were added to the original Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries degrees. In 1975, the Arizona State Board of Education approved the teacher training degree program in Education. In 1996, a Secondary Education major was added and the Christian Ministries major began to offer minors in Youth, Counseling, and Business as part of its professional program. Business and Counseling majors were added in 1999, and a Music major was added in 2002. In 1972 the college first received accreditation with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and added regional accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission in 1992.

ACU’s desire to serve the broader evangelical community was reflected in the decision in 2009 to become a non-denominational Christian liberal arts college, while remaining grateful for its roots in the Conservative Baptist association. The decision in January 2011 to embrace the name “Arizona Christian University” was the final, formal step in preparing ACU for its future as Arizona’s only private, accredited, non-profit Christian liberal arts university.
With the dynamic leadership of President Len Munsil (2010-present), a constitutional attorney and leader in Christian non-profit and public policy work, ACU has embraced a renewed vision to “transform culture with truth” – taking the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel into all the world, bringing biblical truth into every arena of influence in our culture. Continuing to produce biblically sound pastors, missionaries, evangelists and worship leaders, ACU also intends to equip Christian leaders for service in education, business, counseling, and is planning to expand its majors to produce Christian leaders in government, science, medicine, law and communications.

In March of 2011, the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, was the keynote speaker at Arizona Christian University’s 50th Anniversary Dinner, where he received the first Daniel Award for Courageous Public Faith before 1,260 ACU supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center. The event highlighted just how far ACU has come, and what God can do with a generous gift from a humble and devout Christian woman who dreamed and prayed that one day a Christian college would rise in Arizona. Subsequent Daniel Award recipients included Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham in 2012, three-time Grammy Award winner Michael W. Smith in 2013, and Hobby Lobby Founders David and Barbara Green in 2015.