PHOENIX (AP) — Grand Canyon University's application to regain its nonprofit status has been approved by a university accreditation authority, the Arizona school said Tuesday.

The approval by The Higher Learning Commission will help return the private Christian school to its roots and create a level playing field with other institutions for tax status, philanthropic contributions and research grant opportunities, said GCU president and CEO Brian Mueller.

The company that has been operating the school will sell its academic-related assets to a nonprofit entity carrying the university's name and will continue providing services such as accounting and human resources.

After the sale, the university itself will control academics, along with departments such as athletics, public safety, facilities and student services. The education company will then operate as a third-party, for-profit provider of many services to the school including recruitment, marketing and information technology.

That structure is similar to many nonprofit universities in the United States that outsource services to third-party providers.

The school was nonprofit from its founding in 1949 until 2004, when it sought for-profit status after falling $20 million into debt and almost closing its doors.

Without a large donor base or the ability to rely on tax dollars, the university stayed afloat by securing investor funding and adding an online component to its teaching programs. It then sought out public markets for capital investment, helping the school grow stronger financially.

Grand Canyon University has 19,000 students enrolled at its Phoenix campus and another 70,000 online students.