Grand Canyon University (GCU), the nation’s largest Christian university, has been hit with a record fine of $37.7 million by the federal government that alleges the institution misled over 7,500 students about the costs associated with its graduate programs, the Department of Education (DOE) announced on Tuesday.
“GCU lied about the cost of its doctoral programs to attract students to enroll,” said Federal Student Aid (FSA) COO Richard Cordray in the release. “FSA takes its oversight responsibilities seriously. GCU’s lies harmed students, broke their trust, and led to unexpectedly high levels of student debt.”
Located in Phoenix, Arizona, GCU has a student body of over 100,000 students.
The FSA investigation found that since 2017, GCU had been misinforming students about the costs of their doctoral programs, advertising expenses between $40,000 and $49,000. However, less than 2% of graduates managed to complete the programs within the advertised costs. Additional expenses, primarily for “continuation courses,” were necessary for the majority of graduates, leading to a significant increase in tuition expenses of approximately 25% compared to what GCU initially promoted.
GCU’s fine print disclosures were deemed “insufficient to cure the substantial misrepresentations regarding cost,” and the university did not contest its determination that 98% of students enrolled in certain doctoral programs paid more than advertised, the DOE noted.
In response, Grand Canyon University refuted the accusations in a statement on Tuesday and vowed to take all necessary steps to defend itself against the claims.
“Grand Canyon University categorically denies every accusation in the Department of Education’s statement and will take all measures necessary to defend itself from these false accusations,” GCU said in the statement.
GCU added that it believes it is being “unjustly targeted” as the nation’s largest Christian university and that individuals within the government agencies have used their positions “to attack institutions with whom they are ideologically opposed.”
The DOE has imposed the $37.7 million fine, plus specific requirements for the university’s participation in federal student aid programs, including prohibiting further misrepresentations about the costs of their doctoral programs, oversight by a monitor, and mandatory reporting on legal proceedings or investigations related to accreditation or pending litigation.