The Biden administration, which has already shown its penchant to use government resources to attack opposing viewpoints, has now set its sights on Christian higher education, the president of Grand Canyon University says.
Phoenix-based GCU, which has the largest enrollment of U.S. Christian universities, was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, two days after Christmas. The FTC alleges that Grand Canyon has engaged in deceptive advertising and illegal telemarketing.
It's the second federal action against GCU in a month and a half. In mid-November, the school was fined a record $37.7 million over allegations that it has misled students about the cost of its programs.
And for those alleged crimes – strongly denied by GCU president Brian Mueller – GCU was fined roughly $33 million more than Penn State was fined for failing to report multiple acts of pedophilia by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky; and more than Michigan State University was fined for refusing to address sexual assault crimes by former team doctor Larry Nassar.
GCU has gone from near-bankruptcy in 2008 to a combined enrollment of almost 120,000 with 26,000 students on campus and another 92,000 online, Mueller told Fox News on Friday.
Targeting faith-based institutions
Mueller says GCU – and not only GCU – is being targeted because it's a faith-based institution.
"I was meeting with the Liberty University president yesterday. They're going to get fined a huge amount as well. We happen to be the two largest Christian universities in the country. Nothing about this makes any sense, so you have to think there's something from the Biden administration's perspective that they don't like happening here. They're going after the two largest Christian universities in the country," Mueller said.
Officials at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, have said the school has been threatened with a fine of $37.5 million for alleged violations of the Clery Act, 1990 federal legislation that requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose certain crime statistics and campus security information. The school told Fox News that a preliminary DOE report that included the allegations was leaked to media in an attempt to "poison the well" as the school continues talks with the DOE.
Mueller suspects the "tremendous amount of success" both GCU and Liberty are experiencing might be sticking in the craw of the education establishment.
"What we offer is in huge demand in this country. Things have never been better for us. There's never been greater interest in what we do than right now. Kids are coming from all over the country wanting to attend Grand Canyon University," said Mueller. "We can't build fast enough for all the kids who come here, and so there is something ideological that's going on here to create all these investigations and this minutia."
Gitnux, a goods and services data website for consumers, found that faith remains significant in the lives of most college students at both Christian and secular schools. Their 2023 report shows:
- 57% of college students say religious beliefs provide them with strength and guidance.
- 71% identify with a religious affiliation.
- 40% attend services at least once a month.
- 38% report that they pray daily.
- 59% say their religiosity has increased during their college years.
Mueller is convinced the FTC took issue with the fact that the school identified itself as a nonprofit entity during an 18-month window after the nonprofit status had already been granted by other governing bodies.
"That transaction was blessed by the IRS, State of Arizona and our accrediting body [Higher Learning Commission], so of course we identified ourselves as a nonprofit because we were … and are," Mueller said.
"The U.S. Department of Education waited 18 months after the transaction to announce it would not recognize our lawful nonprofit status for the purposes of Title IV funding and demanded at that time that, moving forward, GCU not identify itself as a nonprofit institution based on unsupported speculation that students would confuse GCU's legal nonprofit status with the Department's so-called 'Title IV for-profit status.' We disagreed with that opinion but cooperated as a good faith gesture.
"For the FTC to say now, five years later, that identifying ourselves as a nonprofit institution during that 18-month window was somehow 'deceptive advertising' is meritless and the height of absurdity," he told AFN.
'Minutiae' … the government's M.O.
Mueller said the government's accusations that Grand Canyon sought to raise money at the expense of its students are baseless.
"We believe in America's free market system and the Christian worldview perspective – and both of them are foundational to what we do," said the GCU president. "So, all the problems that are plaguing higher education now – high tuition, big debt levels, programs not tied specifically enough – we've developed a model that's addressed all those things."
"We haven't raised tuition in 15 years. Our students take out less debt than the average state university student. [And] our default rates are extremely low," he offered. "So, what they've done in order to try to stop us is conduct these investigations, ask for thousands of files, and … come up with this minutiae in order to fine us in an attempt to stop us."