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Katherine Knott has the latest at Insider Higher Ed:
The Education Department is fining Grand Canyon University a record $37.7 million for misleading more than 7,500 students about the cost of doctoral degree programs and violating federal law.
“GCU’s lies harmed students, broke their trust, and led to unexpectedly high levels of student debt,” Richard Cordray, chief operating officer for Federal Student Aid, said in a statement. “Today, we are holding GCU accountable for its actions, protecting students and taxpayers, and upholding the integrity of the federal student aid programs.”
Cordray said that Grand Canyon, one of the largest private Christian institutions in the country, with nearly 120,000 in-person and online students, repeatedly told prospective and current doctoral students starting in 2017 that their degree program would cost between $40,000 and $49,000. But that figure was based on completing a program within 60 credit hours and failed to account for continuation courses needed to complete the dissertation program. Students on average need nearly 10 continuation courses to earn their degree. Almost all the graduates—about 98 percent—needed more than 60 credit hours to complete their programs, which drove the total cost up. Some paid as much as $12,000 more in tuition.
“GCU knew or should have known that its representations bear little resemblance to reality for the vast majority of its graduates,” department officials wrote in a letter to the university about the fine. “In fact, internal emails indicate that the GCU leadership has been aware since at least January 2017 that its disclosures regarding cost were incomplete or misleading. Yet, to this day, GCU’s substantial misrepresentations persist.”
Claims about the cost of programs appeared on the university’s website, net price calculators and enrollment agreements, among other places.
Although the university did provide fine-print disclosures about the potential need for additional courses, the department said those notices didn’t include cost information and were buried in dense documents. Cordray told reporters Tuesday those disclosures aren’t enough to “cure the net impression that the program will be less expensive and will require fewer credits than it actually does.”
For those violations, the department decided to levy the stiff fine, which a senior FSA official said is “the largest of its kind.” The penalty amounts to $5,000 per violation, which totaled 7,547—the number of students who enrolled in doctoral dissertation programs from Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 19, 2023.
“While GCU maintains that a fine of any amount is not justified, the Department’s $37.7 million penalty is grossly inappropriate when looking at recent fines they have issued,” university officials wrote in a statement released after the department’s announcement.
The department noted in its fine notice that it could have issued a maximum penalty of $509.7 million, because the agency can impose up to $67,544 fine per violation. The fine was lowered, the department said, because the violations involved a small slice of programs that enroll fewer than 5 percent of Grand Canyon students who receive federal financial aid. The university also generally cooperated with the investigation and took steps to update its disclosures—factors that also led to the lower fine.
Read the entire piece here.
In 2018, Grand Canyon University was in a neck and neck race with Liberty University to see who could legitimately claim the title “world’s largest Christian University.” (By the way, isn’t there something strange, perhaps unChristian, of trying to compete for such a title?) Now both Grand Canyon and Liberty have been hit with massive fines by the Department of Education.