The penalty comes after allegations that the university misled students regarding the costs of its graduate programs. While the university vehemently denies these accusations, the U.S. Education Department’s investigation found discrepancies in the institution’s cost disclosures for its doctoral programs.
Grand Canyon University, with an enrollment exceeding 100,000 students, predominantly in online programs, is under scrutiny following a federal investigation. The U.S. Education Department has levied the most substantial fine of its kind against the institution, alleging that it deceived over 7,500 students about the expenses associated with its doctoral programs.
The university had previously informed students, as early as 2017, that the doctoral programs would cost between $40,000 and $49,000. However, the department’s investigation revealed that less than 2% of graduates completed their programs within this range. A staggering 78% ended up paying an additional $10,000 to $12,000, often due to “continuation courses” required for dissertation completion.
Richard Cordray, the chief operating officer for Federal Student Aid, commented on the situation, stating, “GCU’s lies harmed students, broke their trust and led to unexpectedly high levels of student debt.” This move to fine the university is part of a broader initiative by the Biden administration to ensure accountability among U.S. educational institutions.
Grand Canyon University has been given 20 days to appeal the fine. Additionally, the institution will face new conditions to continue receiving federal funds. Among these conditions, the university is prohibited from misrepresenting the costs of its doctoral programs and must provide accurate average costs to students.
The university’s response to the fine has been one of strong denial. They argue that their cost disclosures have been validated in court and by their accreditor. They also suggest that the fine is a result of a “disturbing pattern” by the Education Department, hinting at a possible retaliatory action due to an ongoing lawsuit the university filed against the department in 2021.
Grand Canyon University’s vast student body includes approximately 20,000 students on its Phoenix campus, with the majority enrolled in online programs. As of 2021, the university had 80,000 students in online programs, split almost evenly between undergraduate and graduate courses.