Brian Mueller, president of Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University (GCU), says the Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have concerns about the university's tax status.
GCU was a non-profit institution from 1949 through 2004, when the university was millions of dollars in debt and was about ready to close. But when an investment firm put up money to save it, GCU changed to a for-profit status, brought in the current management team in 2008, and went to the public markets to get an infusion of capital.
Mueller says the university had an "extremely successful" 10 years of operation under that setup. They experienced "tremendous growth, explosive growth" from 2008-2018, both on campus and online.
In 2018, GCU decided to go back as a non-profit institution. That involved what Mueller describes as "a complicated transaction," but one that the IRS approved.
In October of 2021, the Department of Education, the VA, and the FTC announced that they were going to work together to crack down on for-profit institutions. At that time, GCU had been operating efficiently as a non-profit university for about three years.
"We have a different financial model that used the public markets to get access to capital," Mueller notes. "We are a Christian university which is now the largest private university in the country."
He asserts that the university has done nothing wrong, so "everybody" is asking if the issue is the fact that GCU is a Christian school that teaches from a Christian worldview perspective. Mueller does not know, but he does say there has never been more government interest in the school than there is right now.
"Is that threatening to the Department of Education or to somebody?" Mueller asks about the Christian worldview. "I don't know, because they won't tell us what it is we need to change for them to be satisfied."