PHOENIX - As Grand Canyon University gets ready to appeal a massive multi-million dollar fine imposed by federal education officials, we sat down with the private university's president for a one-on-one interview.
The $37.7 million fine imposed on GCU was announced on Oct. 31. In its statement, officials with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid accused GCU of misstating the cost of its programs.
"GCU stated that those doctoral programs cost between $40,000 and $49,000. GCU made these false claims about the cost on the school’s website and net price calculators, as well as in its enrollment agreements, catalogs, policy handbooks, and other marketing materials," read a portion of the statement.
Fine "ridiculous and ludicrous," university president said
In a statement released on Oct. 31, university officials state they categorically deny "every accusation in the Department of Education’s statement and will take all measures necessary to defend itself from these false accusations."
GCU officials have also said that they don't believe a single student has complained.
During the Nov. 15 interview, GCU President Brian Mueller made his opinion known on the fine that was imposed on the private university.
"This thing is completely ridiculous and ludicrous," said Mueller.
The following day, Mueller spoke at a news conference, announcing the appeal.
In the Oct. 31 statement released by federal officials, they wrote that "GCU’s statements about the total cost to complete these programs were false and misleading because, based on GCU’s own data, less than 2% of graduates completed within the cost that GCU advertised."
"2% seems like a very low number," we asked Mueller.
"I just showed you the document," Mueller retorted. "It clearly says this is the cost for the 60 credits, and right above that, in the same font, it says the average students takes x number of additional courses at this cost."
Above the table, GCU officials now write that on average, doctoral students need an additional 9.9 continuation courses. Those courses, according to the statement, costs $2,175 each. This means on average, students will pay $21,532.50 more to attend the continuation courses.
Federal officials say the disclosure was updated after GCU officials were notified of the investigation. Previous versions showed fewer courses, which GCU says was consistent as it changed over time.
"Why not advertise, though, the average cost and average length of time, instead of something 2% of students can achieve?" Mueller was asked.
"We state right there that the average number of courses is x at an average cost of x," Mueller replied. "It's right there. Their disagreement is that it's in fine print. It's in the print right above."
"It's not included in the table, I believe is their argument," we said, in response.
"It's right above the table!" Mueller retorted.
"Why include the table, though, if that's only for 2% of the students?" we asked.
"Why do any of this stuff, if it's not required? We do it because we want to be very transparent. I challenge you to go out and find another university with a doctoral program that goes even close to that," Mueller retorted.
Muelller said he believes they should be commended, not fined. The university also plans to appeal the fine.
"If those things don't go our way, we'll sue them," said Mueller. "We'll fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. This is an utterly ludicrous miscarriage of justice, and it's the clearest example in this country of government overreach."
We asked officials with the U.S. Department of Education if they have received any student complaints, and if they would sit down for an interview. Officials with the agency, however, have yet to respond.