Photos by Ralph Freso
Arizona leaders in business and education came to the support of Grand Canyon University today, a day after GCU charged some federal agencies of conducting an effort to bring harm to the nation’s largest Christian university with frivolous accusations.
Jerry Colangelo told hundreds of the University’s employees at GCU Arena that GCU is one of the greatest success stories he has ever seen – and Colangelo, partner at JDM Partners and a Phoenix sports and business icon, has seen many.
“To know the facts and see how the government is responding the way they are, it’s absurd. It really is,” said Colangelo, whose name graces the University’s business college. “You can’t quit on this issue, you have to fight the issue when truth is on your side. You go to the mat and you continue to fight the battle until the battle is over.”
GCU President Brian Mueller took more than 30 minutes to describe to employees a pattern of government overreach by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Veterans Affairs.
After GCU transitioned to nonprofit status in 2018, a move confirmed by the Internal Revenue Service, state of Arizona, Higher Learning Commission and other agencies, the ED refused to acknowledge it, setting off a 2021 lawsuit.
Mueller said that caused retaliatory actions, the latest in August, when the ED informed GCU that it was going to allege “substantial misrepresentation” of the cost to attain a degree in some of GCU’s doctoral programs, despite those claims being refuted twice in federal courts and in direct contrast to a review by the Higher Learning Commission. He said that the ED will fine GCU – unfairly.
“People in Washington D.C. are not going to impugn the work you do every day,” Mueller said. “They’re not going to do it.”
He went through a long list of inquiries by the ED and other government agencies that has cost the University substantial employee hours and costs to refute, extensively detailed in Thursday’s statement.
“We are not going to agree that we mislead students in any way,” he said.
In fact, GCU has frozen tuition for 15 years for students, who graduate with less debt than those from other private schools. Forty percent are students of color on its ground campus and 50% online. Lower debt and serving underrepresented populations are both goals of the ED.
Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the group she has seen the rare way GCU has succeeded: “One of the things that most upsets me is the ridiculous complaint that a student's biography is not an academic endeavor. I guess it isn’t if you don’t care who students are,” said Keegan, who was referencing a 2022 ED allegation that online students’ postings of their personal biographies on the first day of class is not considered an “academic related activity,” even though its own counsel told GCU in writing that it was.
Keegan, a member of the Board of Directors of GCU business partner Grand Canyon Education, served in the state legislature, chaired the education committee and served as education advisor to Sen. John McCain.
“He gave me the opportunity to see schools and universities all across the country. And I will tell you this, I have never in my life seen anything like what happens in the family that is Grand Canyon University, its students, its families, its faculty, its staff,” she said.
When students and families know the academic and supportive culture helps them find a purpose, it’s unique, she continued.
“It’s not a small thing, it’s sacred work. ... All students have the right to be everything they can be. That’s what this university is all about.”
“So when this nonsense happens ... We can disagree on government powers, but we cannot stand for things that are simply not true.”
What is uncomfortable, she continued, is “success where others don’t succeed.”
In the five years since its transition to nonprofit status, GCU has graduated 130,276 students, and more than 72,000 of them graduated in education, nursing and health care fields that fill dire shortages in those professions nationwide.
“Please know that the work you are doing is no small thing,” Keegan said. "Developing young people and all people to be the people they want to be, to contribute the gifts they are obligated to give in this life, is sacred work.”
Mueller said that GCU is asking to be recognized as a nonprofit by the ED “and stop the fishing expeditions ... to help more and more students. That’s all we are asking for.”
He asked employees to visit SupportGCU.com for a list of Arizona legislators.
“This is not political for us. I don’t care about politics. What I care about is the University, and I care about living out our faith through the University,” he said.
“We have never been in a better place. There’s never been greater interest in the University than there is right now. We are doing remarkable things by the grace of God,” he told employees. “You are an extremely important part of this, and we thank you for what you are doing every day.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]