GCU president confounded by record federal fine, ‘not really hopeful’ about appeal

Nov 2, 2023, 4:25 AM

“We're hopeful from that standpoint, but not really hopeful,” Grand Canyon University President...

“We're hopeful from that standpoint, but not really hopeful,” Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller said of appealing a the U.S. Department of Education's $37.7 million fine. (Grand Canyon University Photos)

(Grand Canyon University Photos)

PHOENIX – Grand Canyon University’s president said Wednesday he is “hopeful” but “not really hopeful” about the appeals process after the U.S. Department of Education announced a record $37.7 million fine against the Phoenix-based school for allegedly misleading students about costs for years.

Brian Mueller told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show GCU’s cost disclosure practices are “the exact opposite” of what the DOE is citing as the reason for punishing the nation’s largest Christian university.

The private school was given until Nov. 20 to appeal the fine, the largest of its kind ever issued by the DOE. Mueller said the appeals process is handled inside the federal agency.

“We’re hopeful from that standpoint, but not really hopeful,” he said.

How does Grand Canyon University feel about accusations?

Mueller expressed feelings of helplessness after being in conflict with the Education Department for five years.

“Unless you’ve been in a situation where you’ve had to deal with this administration and how theologically hellbent they are on harming anything that doesn’t fit into their ideological framework, you have no idea how helpless that can feel,” he said.

An investigation by the DOE’s Federal Student Aid office determined that GCU misled more than 7,500 former and current students about doctoral program costs as far back as 2017.

FSA concluded that GCU’s “fine print disclosures” weren’t prominent enough to prevent students from being deceived, a notion Mueller vehemently denies.

“We tell every student in every program the total cost of the program at … the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level, so we go way above and beyond,” he said. “Nobody in the country even comes close to that level of transparency and yet they’re saying that we weren’t transparent.”

Why is GCU president confounded by Education Department actions?

Mueller said the DOE launched its investigation even though no students complained.

“First question I get asked, ‘Is this because you’re a Christian university?’ I can’t say I have evidence of that, but something is amiss because the rest of it makes no sense,” Mueller said.

GCU previously issued a statement accusing federal agencies of targeting the school with “frivolous accusations” in retaliation for an ongoing lawsuit against the Education Department over the school’s nonprofit status.

Grand Canyon was established as a nonprofit entity in 1949 and went through a period as a for-profit university starting in 2004 after experiencing financial problems. It recovered and then completed the process of reverting to nonprofit status in 2018. The DOE, however, doesn’t recognize the nonprofit status, even though GCU’s accreditor and the Internal Revenue Service do.

Mueller said the school now has 118,000 students, with 92,000 online and 26,000 enrolled at the $2 billion Phoenix campus.

“That’s all been done without any cost to the taxpayer. … And so rather than coming and saying, ‘Why is this working? Why are there so many people interested around the country in attending GCU?’ they open investigations and try to do the institution harm,” he said. “Nothing about any of this makes any sense.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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GCU president confounded by record federal fine, ‘not really hopeful’ about appeal