Grand Canyon University is providing this statement to shed some light regarding a frivolous lawsuit filed in Georgia on Thursday, July 18, that the Arizona Republic has chosen to cover in great detail, continuing a pattern of disparaging articles by the newspaper related to GCU.
The lawsuit was filed by an Atlanta law firm that has a history of soliciting plaintiffs in order to create class-action lawsuits. This firm has now filed three baseless suits against GCU and created a website designed to publicize these efforts specifically against GCU. That in itself is a red flag for any journalist evaluating the motivations of such a lawsuit and whether it has merit or is newsworthy.
The lawsuit was filed at 12:46 p.m. Arizona time on Thursday and GCU was served, for the first time, with a copy of the complaint by Arizona Republic reporter Rachel Leingang nearly two hours later at 2:20 p.m. Typically lawsuits are served by the attorney that filed the complaint and not by a newspaper, so the University was surprised to find that the Arizona Republic was working collaboratively with these plaintiffs’ firm to attempt to act as a process server and surprise the University with a copy of the complaint. GCU Communications Executive Director Bob Romantic responded to the Arizona Republic reporter at 3:21 p.m., informing her that the University had not seen this lawsuit before. The reporter informed us the story was being published that day, and a subsequent email from the reporter stated that we had until 5 p.m. to respond. The story appeared on azcentral.com at 6:46 p.m.
Demanding that a university respond to a 54-page document that it has no knowledge of in less than two hours is clearly unreasonable and irresponsible, yet the Republic, in its haste to report alleged disparaging news about GCU, proceeded. The story acknowledged GCU’s statement that it “did not have enough time to properly investigate the claims,” yet made no mention that we were given less than two hours to do so. Further, the story went into great detail about the allegations from two former students, included an interview with one of those students and highlighted several false and defamatory statements – even though GCU was not given reasonable time to respond directly to those claims and the lawsuit had just been filed hours earlier.
One student’s complaint was spelled out in nine paragraphs in the article, while GCU’s response was condensed into two paragraphs even though we provided detailed verbiage from the enrollment document that directly refutes the allegations made by the student. GCU’s response also included context related to the $65,000 in loans the student disclosed she incurred. That context was not included in the article and explained that a significant portion of the debt occurred because the student chose to borrow more money than the program cost. While GCU counsels students about responsible borrowing, federal law allows students to borrow more than the cost of their program to cover living expenses. The Republic article paints the picture that GCU students incur large amounts of debt, which is not accurate. GCU graduates incur far less debt (an average of $18,750 according to the latest data from College Scorecard) than the average at public and private nonprofit universities ($28,650 according to 2017 data from the Institute for College Access and Success).
The article also included false and disparaging comments from a second student, who resided in West Virginia when she began her program. When the student disclosed her desire to obtain licensure in Ohio, she was advised of the pathway options for that state to obtain the necessary licensure with her program. However, the student decided to withdraw instead. Her GCU degree program does provide a path to achieve the Ohio licensure she sought, as we pointed out to the Republic.
The article, complete with a sensationalized headline, was portrayed as the top story on the Republic’s website Thursday night and Friday morning.
Rather than litigate these unfounded allegations through the media, GCU looks forward to being exonerated in a fair and impartial court of law where this type of behavior is unacceptable – if the case is not summarily dismissed beforehand, as we expect.
What is more troubling to the University is the fact that the Arizona Republic continues to seek out such stories and immediately gave the benefit of the doubt to this Georgia law firm and two students – without providing the University a fair chance to respond. GCU is one of the best higher education success stories in the world, and our end-of-course surveys indicate that the vast majority of our students have great experiences. Yet the Republic continues to seek out the handful who don’t and make that the narrative it wishes to tell. GCU would not have grown to roughly 100,000 students in just 10 years if the overwhelming majority of its students weren’t having a positive experience. If the Republic’s behavior is consistent with past history, there will be no follow-up article when these baseless claims are thrown out by the court.
Pick any university in the country and you will find a small percentage of students who are unable to meet the educational obligations for any number of reasons. GCU has high academic standards and we will not lower those standards for those who don’t succeed, no matter how vigorously they complain.
The irony of this situation is the fact that our enrollment process is the exact opposite of what the Republic chooses to portray. We believe we have the single most transparent system in the country that is best in class as it relates to financial aid, degree requirements, responsible borrowing, state compliance and counseling services. Our university counselors utilize a state compliance map that we update on a quarterly basis with program-specific requirements for licensure and certification programs in every state. The information housed in the map is taken directly from each state’s industry regulatory board and is used to ensure students are aware of all requirements for degree completion and licensure in their state.
We have had roughly 20 universities visit GCU in the past two years to learn more about our processes, and they universally state that our level of enrollment transparency and technological advancements exceed anything they have seen. Further, we have recently gone through a third-party financial aid audit with zero findings, a Veterans Administration audit with zero findings, and visits from our regional accrediting body (Higher Learning Commission) and specialized accrediting bodies such as the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the NCAA. All spent hours reviewing documents and speaking with students and employees and have given the University their full endorsement.
That is a reflection of GCU’s commitment to the success of our students and a testament to the 11,000 individuals who work extremely hard to provide the best service to our students. We will vigorously defend those individuals from unfounded accusations and continue to communicate directly with our stakeholders rather than let the Arizona Republic dictate what information is made public about these circumstances.
The University has brought some innovative and transparent concepts to higher education that have been tremendously beneficial to students in many ways, and we are always open to sharing those concepts with people who want to schedule a visit to learn more about them.