Denver is widely regarded to be among the more liberal major cities in the United States. But it's also home to Colorado Christian University, which the research website Niche just ranked the seventh-most-conservative American college — and it's among the fastest-growing, too.
"We've had nine years of record enrollment at Colorado Christian University," says Jeff Hunt, CCU's vice president of public policy and director of the Centennial Institute, the branch that puts on the annual Western Conservative Summit. "And a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're unapologetically Christian and conservative. People know exactly what they're getting here, and it's driving our enrollment numbers to record heights."
CCU hosts about 1,400 enrollees on its Lakewood campus, in addition to just shy of 7,000 who take online courses, and the college is currently constructing a new residence hall to accommodate the influx. As Hunt puts it, "We're in a building boom."
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In the meantime, the school's right-wing reputation has helped it move steadily up the Niche rankings, from the lower end of the top twenty to number nine in 2017, and two spots higher this year. When it comes to conservatism, the school trails only two arms of Brigham Young University (one in Utah, the other in Idaho), Ohio's Cedarville University and Franciscan University of Steubenville, South Carolina's Bob Jones University, and first-place finisher Liberty University in Lynchberg, Virginia, an institution founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Niche's findings are based largely on political-preference surveys by students and alums, and that pleases Hunt. "I think what you're seeing is students who self-identify as conservatives — and since one of our goals is to impact our culture with a conservative worldview, I think that's just fantastic."
As for why CCU is becoming better known as a bastion of conservative scholarship, Hunt says. "The Western Conservative Summit is definitely a part of that. But the trustees also asked us to make sure more students were involved in the Centennial Institute. I think a lot of folks thought we were a separate entity, but we're not, and the last three years, we've made sure that students were invited to more of the events we host, and we got more students involved interning and planning. We also have a student program called 1776 Scholars that's really grown in its influence on campus."
More notoriety came along earlier this year when Network of enlightened Women (NeW), a conservative women's organization, announced that CCU student Ethan Van Buskirk had been named the winner of the Gentlemen Showcase — or, as Hunt characterizes it, "the top gentleman in the nation. With all the press about how poor men can be on college campuses, with sexual assault and those kinds of things, they wanted to highlight a gentleman on campus, and Ethan won. He's not going to have any problem getting dates for a long time."
Hunt describes Colorado Christian University's overall philosophy as "thoughtful conservatism" in the tradition of scholars from the past such as Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke and William F. Buckley, as well as more contemporary individuals, including Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, Robert George and the Heritage Foundation's Jennifer Marshall.
The last four figures are regularly excoriated by progressives, and so is Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, whose address at Colorado State University earlier this year sparked a clash involving neo-Nazis.
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But Hunt has nothing critical to say about Kirk. Indeed, he takes pride in sitting on Turning Point USA's advisory council and sees the outfit and others like it as "giving a strong voice to conservatives on college campuses. I remember being in seminary and feeling tremendous hostility for my conservative views and feeling that I was all alone out there. But I feel that's changed, thanks to these kinds of groups."
Because of what he characterizes as the "lunacy" that regularly takes place on most college campuses, Hunt, who's also among the state's most vocal marijuana critics, feels the latest generation of young conservatives is looking for a saner setting to pursue higher education. And he feels they'll find one at Colorado Christian University.
"We're recognized as Christian first and conservative next," he says. "I think those two go hand in hand with our identity. And the more we embrace those two identities, the bigger our attendance grows."
Even in metro Denver.