WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s largest Christian university says it’s fighting a $37.7 million fine brought by the federal government over allegations that it lied to students about the cost of its programs.
Grand Canyon University, which enrolls more than 100,000 students mostly in online programs, said it’s filing an appeal with the U.S. Education Department on Thursday. If it fails, the Phoenix-based school said it’s prepared to file a federal lawsuit.
In a 40-minute speech, university President Brian Mueller called the fine “ridiculous” and questioned whether the school is being targeted because of its faith affiliation. He noted that the nation’s second-largest Christian university, Liberty University, is reportedly being threatened with a $37 million fine over alleged underreporting of crimes.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the two largest Christian universities in the country, this one and Liberty University, are both being fined almost the identical amount at almost the identical time?” he said. “Now is there a cause and effect there? I don’t know. But it’s a fact.”
The Education Department fined Grand Canyon on Oct. 31 after an investigation found that the university lied to more than 7,500 current and former students about the cost of doctoral programs.
As far back as 2017, the university told students its doctoral programs would cost between $40,000 and $49,000. The department found that less than 2% of graduates completed programs within the range, with 78% paying an additional $10,000 to $12,000.
The additional cost often came from “continuation courses” that were needed to finish dissertation requirements, the department said.
Mueller denied any wrongdoing. He said students were given disclosures about continuation courses and other costs. He said there’s no evidence of anything “nefarious.” He alleged: “There’s a group of people in Washington, D.C., that has every intention to harm us.”
Grand Canyon previously said it was being targeted by federal agencies in retaliation for an ongoing lawsuit the school filed against the Education Department in 2021.
The school sued after the department rejected its request to be classified as a nonprofit college. Grand Canyon became a for-profit college in 2004 when investors saved it from financial collapse. It applied to become a nonprofit again in 2018, but the Trump administration blocked the move, saying the college remained too close to its previous parent company.
It’s considered a nonprofit by its accreditor and the Internal Revenue Service.
The university enrolls roughly 20,000 students at its campus in Phoenix, but most of its enrollment comes from students who take online classes from outside Arizona. It had 80,000 students in online programs as of 2021.
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