The FTC Files Lawsuit Against the Largest Christian School in the US for Alleged Deceptive and Abusive Practices

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken legal action against Grand Canyon University, the largest Christian school in the U.S., alleging that it deceived prospective doctoral students about the true costs and requirements of its doctoral programs for several years. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on Dec. 27, the lawsuit names Grand Canyon Education (GCE), Inc., Grand Canyon University (GCU), and Brian Mueller—the CEO of GCE and president of GCU—as defendants, noting that GCE owned GCU until 2018.

The lawsuit contends that GCU misinformed prospective students about the total cost of the university’s “accelerated” doctoral programs, stating that it was equivalent to the cost of 20 courses, or 60 credits. However, the reality is that the school mandates that nearly all doctoral students must take several additional “continuation courses,” resulting in thousands of dollars in additional costs, according to the FTC.

Furthermore, the FTC’s lawsuit alleges that GCU engaged in “deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices,” by contacting potential students who had specifically requested not to be called. School officials were reportedly carrying this out to boost enrollment at GCU.

The school’s alleged misleading of students on the cost of its doctoral programs is not the only area of concern. The FTC also claims that GCU deceptively presented itself as a nonprofit institution to prospective students, despite operating for the profit of GCE and its investors. The FTC, seeking to address these issues, has asked the Court in Arizona to grant a permanent injunction to to prevent future violations by the school, as well as provide monetary relief.

The FTC’s claims of deception have been met with strong denials from GCU, with the school’s executive director of Communications and Public Relations dismissing the allegations as “absurd.” The school maintained that it had refuted the claims regarding its doctoral program in federal courts, and that it had been certified as a nonprofit institution by the Higher Learning Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

The legal action brought by the FTC adds to GCU’s recent troubles, after it was fined $37.7 million by the Education Department for allegedly misleading thousands of students about the costs of its doctoral programs—the largest fine of its kind ever issued by the Department. GCU denied the accusations at the time, stating that it planned to appeal the fine.

The FTC’s lawsuit and the Education Department’s fine could impact the reputation and operations of GCU, as it is increasingly coming under scrutiny for its business and marketing practices. The outcome of both legal actions will determine the future course of the university, with potential repercussions for students and staff alike. As the proceedings unfold, stakeholders will be closely watching to see how GCU responds to these allegations and seeks to address the issues raised by the authorities.

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