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Is the FTC Targeting Grand Canyon University for Their Religious Beliefs?

Maverick Steffen  -  12/30/2023

Last night I watched a news story about Grand Canyon University (GCU) facing serious allegations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for using deceptive advertising and illegal telemarketing practices.

I'm not an attorney, but it seems the FTC is alleging that GCU used 3 improper things:

1- Deceptive Advertising: The FTC alleges that GCU misled prospective students about the costs and requirements of its doctoral programs. Specifically, the university is accused of stating that its accelerated doctoral programs cost the equivalent of 60 credits, while a majority of students needed additional courses, significantly raising the cost​​.

2- Misrepresentation of Nonprofit Status: The FTC asserts that GCU misrepresented itself as a nonprofit, despite a substantial portion of its revenues going to Grand Canyon Education Inc., a for-profit service provider.

This misrepresentation is significant because it potentially affects how students perceive the university's motivations and pricing structure​​.

3- Illegal Telemarketing Practices: The lawsuit also accuses GCU of engaging in abusive telemarketing, including contacting individuals on the National Do Not Call Registry, a clear violation of federal rules​​.

GCU has vigorously denied these allegations. Their primary defense hinges on three points:

1- Challenge to the Ideological Bias: GCU argues that the lawsuit is a result of ideological bias from the federal government, particularly targeting a Christian university. This will be very hard to prove.

The university claims it has been addressing issues in higher education positively and is being unfairly scrutinized​​​​.

2- Recognition as a Nonprofit: GCU states that it is lawfully recognized as a nonprofit by the IRS, the state of Arizona, and the Higher Learning Commission.

I personally could not find any evidence of students complaining about deceptive pricing online, specifically.

They assert that the master services agreement with Grand Canyon Education Inc., in which the for-profit receives 60% of university revenues, is standard for the industry​​.

3- Refuting Unsubstantiated Claims: The university describes the FTC's allegations as unsubstantiated, expressing intent to refute them fully. They emphasize the positive role they play in addressing major problems in higher education​​.

The FTC's allegations against GCU are severe and, if proven true, represent a significant breach of trust and legal compliance. The nature of the accusations suggests that GCU may have engaged in practices that are not only deceptive but also potentially harmful to students and their financial well-being.

However, GCU's defense raises questions about the motivations behind these charges.

As a Fortune 500 marketing consultant who has consulted on website pricing structures for dozens of companies (from hospitals to Universities), I find GCUs pricing structure rather transparent (GCU website).

Also, I personally could not find any evidence of students complaining about deceptive pricing online, but rather only typical complaints about high prices for courses in general (Yelp). I felt the same way when I attended Rutgers!

I did find one complaint of telemarketing, and it does seem real, and sincere. A little online reputation management can go a long way in situations like this.

However, I found several Yelp reviews regarding excessive calls* from the University. Read this article I wrote to understand the difference between calling a lead and telemarketing

The University's claim of being targeted due to its religious affiliation and its status as a "positive force in higher education" warrants consideration. Furthermore, the legal recognition of GCU as a nonprofit by several bodies cannot be overlooked because it grants them entitlements other organizations do not share.

It's important to note that there have been discussions and concerns in various sectors about the potential for governmental bodies to disproportionately target religious organizations, particularly Christian institutions.

These concerns often stem from perceived or actual instances where regulatory, legal, or administrative actions have seemed to focus more intensely on Christian-affiliated organizations compared to other religious groups. Instances may include scrutiny over tax statuses, accreditation issues, or adherence to federal guidelines that some feel may encroach upon religious freedoms or discriminate based on religious affiliation. Again hard to prove.

Claiming religious institutions are disproportionately targeted for investigation (which FOX NEWS routinely covers) is similar to asserting that Black Americans face disproportionate scrutiny (which MSNBC routinely covers).

Both statements overlook the complexities of underlying causes and the justifications for investigations. Ultimately, it is the role of the judicial system to examine and determine the legitimacy and fairness of such inquiries.

GCU's defense points to a potential misinterpretation or misrepresentation of their practices and intentions.

In the years to comes we'll discover the judgment, potential fine, and steps moving forward.

Next time GCU wants new students, without (allegedly) violating the rules, tell them to hire the best.

To your success!


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