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RELIGION | Christian school accused of hiding true tuition costs
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The largest Christian university in the United States may have to pay the federal government $37.7 million for allegedly misleading students about the cost of its graduate programs.
According to the Department of Education, Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University (GCU) lied to at least 7,500 of its 100,000 students over the last several years. It told graduate students that a doctoral degree would cost them between $40,000 and $49,000—but only 2 percent of students completed their programs with a cost in that range. Seventy-eight percent of students paid an additional $10,000 to $12,000, most for “continuance courses” needed to finish their dissertations.
GCU called the allegations false and said it clearly disclosed its degree costs online. It claimed the Education Department was retaliating against the university due to an ongoing lawsuit over its for-profit status. In 2019, the department denied GCU’s attempt to reclassify itself as a nonprofit for the purposes of Title IV financial aid.
But the Education Department said the massive fine is part of an ongoing accountability initiative. Recently, it also finalized rules that will cut federal funding to for-profit college programs that consistently leave graduates with high loans and low pay.
GCU can appeal the fine, but meanwhile it must meet new requirements in order to continue to receive federal funding. The school must also tell prospective students the average cost of its doctoral programs and send current students information about how to submit a complaint to the Education Department.
A federal lawsuit filed Oct. 31 claims that the governing body of Mormonism is misusing charitable contributions from its members. Donors Daniel Chappell, Masen Christensen, and John Oaks brought the lawsuit over concerns that the Utah-based Latter-day Saints organization handed off a substantial portion of their $350,000 in contributions to its investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, rather than use the funds for missions work. They claim Ensign Peak permanently invested the money in stocks, bonds, real estate, and agriculture without their knowledge or consent.
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status as well as the establishment of an independent entity to review collection and use of donations. A former LDS member recently scored partial success in a similar suit. An appeals court in February ordered the LDS organization and Ensign Peak to pay $5 million in fines in for hiding assets (see “Transparency check,” March 25). —E.R.
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