Share Tweet By Billy Hallowell Editor
May 6, 2024

A years-long battle between the largest Christian university in America and the Biden administration is taking a new turn.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently stunned critics by vowing to shut down Grand Canyon University, a popular Arizona-based Christian college.

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“We’ve levied the largest fine in [educational] history against a school that lied to a student,” Cardona said during an April 10 House Appropriations Committee meeting. “We are cracking down on them not only to shut them down but to send a message across the country that you cannot pray on our students and expect to be successful.

Cardonas comments come just months after the education department fined the school a historic $37.7 million.

“Basically, they were accused of … misleading students about how many credits would be required for their doctoral program and therefore leading students to spend more than they might have been expecting in tuition to complete those programs,” Preston Cooper, a senior fellow with the Foundation For Research on Equal Opportunity, told CBN News.

GCU President Brian Mueller, whos also been sued by the Federal Trade Commission over similar claims, denies the allegations and sees this all as part of an ongoing dispute over the schools nonprofit status.

“This all started 14 years ago, when Grand Canyon was in a very difficult spot,” he told CBN News. “Nine hundred students on campus, $20 million in debt. … We switched from a nonprofit to a for-profit status and went to the public markets to get access to capital.”

A decade later, as GCU thrived, leaders decided to revert back to nonprofit status. While the IRS recognized the new status, the Department of Education did not, leading to legal action.

“Once we filed that complaint, the retaliation started,” Mueller said.

Cooper tends to agree theres somewhat of a vendetta in this case.

“This is … fairly common behavior in higher education,” Cooper said. “I think it’s very shady. I think it’s a huge problem with the sector, but to say that this is a problem unique to GCU, I’m very skeptical of that, and that’s why I am kind of of the opinion that this is more of a targeted action against GCU rather than an effort by the Department of Education to fix this problem more broadly.”

Mueller and GCU have no plans to back down from the fight to clear their names.

“We got to this point now because we filed an appeal,” Mueller said. “Obviously, we said to them, it doesn’t matter whether the fine’s $37 million or $1, we’re not paying it, because what you’re saying, the very the opposite is true.”

He continued, “We are extremely transparent. We’re known for that; we take pride in that, and so, obviously, we’re going to contest this, and right now it’s under appeal.”

Mueller points out that GCU provides a Christian worldview and hasnt raised tuition in 16 years. He also believes some critics want to stop the schools expansion.

“We’ll grow the campus out to 50,000 students in the next seven or eight years our online campus will grow from 92,000 students to 150,000 students because of the creative mechanisms we’re putting in place,” Mueller said. “And, so, they’re looking at that, and they’re saying, ‘You know, these people are going to have a significant reach into the culture.’”

He continued, “Were the largest private university in the country. In a couple years, we’ll be the largest university in the country, and we do teach from a Christian worldview perspective.”

Mueller said the momentum is increasing and kids are coming from across the U.S.

“I think there is absolutely … is a desire to stop the momentum,” he said.

The lawsuit triggered an audit of GCU on behalf of Arizonas Veterans Affairs Department in order to ensure credibility for GI bill funding. The investigation into the education departments claims found nothing negative.

GCU plans to continue the fight to clear its name.

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