Open letter from GCU to Department of Education secretary

October 24, 2023

U.S. Department of Education

Attn: Secretary Miguel Cardona
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As promised, our outside legal counsel at Grand Canyon University is putting together a proposed resolution to send to the U.S. Department of Education this week regarding our ongoing disputes. To that effort, we have engaged numerous leaders in Arizona to make them aware of the situation and seek their guidance and advice.

The consensus from these meetings has been twofold: 1) They are incredulous that, given the nature of the Department’s claims and all of the positive contributions GCU is making in higher education, that a monetary fine of any amount is being considered. 2) There has to be a way for you and I to sit down and discuss these matters in a rational and productive way, especially given our shared visions on the major challenges facing higher education.

That second point will be part of our proposed resolution. In fact, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you even before that proposal is delivered. The views you expressed in this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education as it relates to college rankings and the issues facing higher education, particularly as it relates to equity and accessible pathways for a variety of learners, are the same things we have been saying at Grand Canyon University for the past 15 years. Consider:

  • We have developed a model that addresses those core issues in significant ways and we believe there is no better return on taxpayer money than GCU given that we don’t rely on state taxpayer subsidies as state universities do, and we do not burden students with high levels of student loan debt.
  • Our continued pledge to freeze tuition costs on our Phoenix campus, which we have now done for 15 straight years in order to make private higher education affordable to all socioeconomic classes, would also seem to align perfectly with your goals to increase diversity on college campuses and create equal educational opportunities for upward social mobility.
  • GCU graduates are incurring less debt than the national average due to our affordable tuition rates.
  • Our audited financial statements in the five years since the nonprofit transaction occurred show very clearly that GCU is thriving as a result of the nonprofit conversion.
  • We have created the single most dynamic large-scale solution to resolving the nationwide teacher shortage through our efforts in school districts across the country, and we have created the single most dynamic large-scale solution to resolving the nationwide nursing shortage through our efforts to place offsite hybrid nursing locations throughout the country.
  • We are also creating one-semester job pathways for trades such as electricians and machinists for students who desire to go straight into a career.

Those end results are something you and I both agree are desirable outcomes for institutions of higher learning. We appear to differ on very narrow issues regarding the path to achieve those outcomes such as 1) to what extent a student’s introductory post to fellow online classmates demonstrates academic engagement, 2) to what extent a student or prospective student could be confused as to the ultimate cost of completing a doctoral degree program requiring a dissertation, or 3) whether truthful statements such as “Cybersecurity experts are in high demand” are valid in advertising material. With respect to the former, GCU’s position is the same as the one formerly espoused by the Department’s own Office of General Counsel which permitted such postings. With regard to the second matter, two federal courts agreed that GCU does not misrepresent the number of credits and total costs of its doctoral programs. And as for the latter, the state agency operating under the authority of the Department of Veterans Affairs was satisfied with GCU’s response and the safeguards that are in place. The fact that taxpayer money is being spent pursuing these issues is confounding to us.

In our initial meetings with the Department of Education back in 2014, we had productive discussions with former Under Secretary Ted Mitchell in which he said he would assist GCU in its proposed nonprofit conversion and indicated that the Department would follow the ruling of the IRS as it always has when it comes to nonprofit status determination. We proceeded under that guidance and are at a loss to understand why things have changed so significantly regarding the Department’s stance on GCU, particularly since similar nonprofit conversions such as Purdue-Kaplan have been approved.

I am hoping we can get back to those types of productive discussions and focus on the bigger issues facing higher education that we both believe are important. I would invite you to see firsthand what that looks like on our campus and speak with our students, faculty and administrative leaders. If that is not possible in your schedule, I am also amenable to traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with you at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Brian Mueller

President

Grand Canyon University

CC:

Senator Kyrsten Sinema

Senator Mark Kelly

Congressman Andy Biggs

Congressman Juan Ciscomani

Congressman Eli Crane

Congressman Ruben Gallego

Congressman Paul A. Gosar

Congressman Raul M. Grijalva

Congresswoman Debbie Lesko

Congressman David Schweikert

Congressman Greg Stanton

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GCU Magazine

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