FTC Takes Aim at Largest Christian University Over Advertising Claims

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The Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday that it had sued Grand Canyon University. This is the second time in recent months, under the Biden Administration, the Federal Trade Commission has taken action against Grand Canyon University.

In a press statement, the FTC announced that it had filed a lawsuit in federal court against GCU, Grand Canyon Education, Inc., and Brian Mueller, its President and CEO, alleging they engaged in deceptive marketing and illegal telemarketing.

The complaint claims that the Arizona-based university misled prospective doctoral candidates about the time required to complete its accelerated program. It also claimed to have deceptively advertised the school as being a nonprofit and called prospective students illegally who had submitted their contact details on the website of the school but asked not to be contacted.

Samuel Levine of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection said that Grand Canyon had deceived its students by presenting itself as a nonprofit institution and misleading the number of courses and costs required to earn a doctoral degree. “We will continue aggressively to pursue those who attempt to take advantage of students.”

The complaint accuses GCU of violating the FTC Act, and the Telemarketing Sales Rules and asks the U.S. District Court of Arizona to order GCU to compensate the consumers for the alleged violation and to prevent the university from “committing further violations of law”.

A spokesperson for GCU didn’t immediately respond to our requests for comment about the lawsuit. However, Mueller stated in late October that the Biden administration is unfairly targeting the university, claiming multiple federal agencies are involved in a coordinated assault against the school.

The Department of Education (DOE), in a fine of $37.7 million, announced that an investigation by the Office of Federal Student Aid had found the university to have “lied” about the costs of its doctoral program over several years.

In a press statement, the DOE stated that GCU had “falsely” advertised a lower price for its doctoral program. It added that 98% of students paid more than what was advertised.

Mueller has claimed that the federal investigations were triggered by the DOE’s refusal to allow GCU to become a nonprofit in 2018. The Department denied GCU its nonprofit status to qualify for federal financial aid. This continues to classify GCU as a for-profit entity.

At a press event last month, Mueller said GCU will appeal the DOE fine — which is the largest amount the agency has ever imposed — and that the school doesn’t mislead students or deceive them in any way.