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If you currently are or were enrolled in a GCU doctoral program and were forced to enroll in costly continuation courses to complete your degree, contact The Carlson Law Firm today. Our team is committed to ensuring justice and fair compensation for all affected GCU doctoral students and graduates. We Care. We Can Help.

Grand Canyon University Deceptive Advertising Lawsuit

The Carlson Law Firm is actively investigating Grand Canyon University (GCU) after the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) found that the for-profit school misled as many as 98% of its doctoral students about the true number of credit hours and cost of earning a doctorate degree at GCU. According to the DOE’s investigation, the vast majority of GCU doctoral students overpaid between $10,000 and $12,000 for their degrees when compared to the cost prominently advertised by GCU. As a consequence, the DOE recently fined GCU more than $37 million for its fraudulent practices. Despite facing the DOE fine, GCU has not been forced to make things right with GCU doctoral students and graduates, as no portion of the DOE fine will go to reimburse those who overpaid for their degrees. The Carlson Law Firm seeks to rectify this injustice.

Key Details of the Case:

1. The GCU Promise: GCU prominently claimed that the total cost for earning its doctoral degree was between $40,000 to $49,000, and told prospective students that its doctoral programs would be completed by earning between 60 to 65 credit hours of coursework.

2. The GCU Fraud:
An overwhelming 98% of doctoral students at GCU were required to earn more than the promised 60-65 credit hours to graduate because they were forced to also enroll in (and pay for) costly continuation courses to complete their dissertation, ultimately incurring additional costs of $10,000 to $12,000, and sometimes even higher.

3. GCU’s Knowledge of the Fraud: The DOE noted in its investigation that GCU knew or should have known that its claims regarding cost and number of credit hours required to earn a doctorate degree “bear little resemblance to reality for a vast majority of its graduates” as less than 2% of GCU doctoral students are able to earn their degree within the promised cost range. In addition, DOE’s investigation uncovered internal GCU communications that reveal that high-ranking school officials knew, as far back as 2017, that the school’s claims regarding the number of credit hours and cost of earning a doctoral degree at GCU were inaccurate.

4. Lack of Federal Aid: Many students found themselves ineligible for federal financial aid for these extra courses, compounding their financial strain with private loans or unforeseen out-of-pocket expenses.

GCU’s Own Data Reveals the Fraud

According to the notice letter sent by the DOE to GCU officials informing them of the Department’s intent to fine the school (the “Notice Letter”), since at least 2017, GCU had prominently advertised on its website, in enrollment contracts, and in various other materials that nearly all its doctoral programs required only 60 credit hours for completion, with just two programs needing 65 hours, and with costs ranging between $40,000 to $49,000. However, a thorough analysis by DOE economists, reviewing GCU’s student outcome data from 2011 to 2022, revealed a starkly different reality. This investigation found that less than 2% of all GCU doctoral graduates were able to complete their degree program within the cost range prominently advertised by GCU.

The Reality of Continuation Courses

The DOE pointed out that GCU would have been aware of the inaccuracy of its claims. This is because it is nearly impossible for most doctoral students to complete their dissertations without additional continuation courses, which add a significant financial burden that students are compelled to bear. Substantial internal data from GCU backs this assertion in the economists’ analysis.

Enrollment Misrepresentations

The Notice Letter also sheds light on the deceptive practices employed during the enrollment process at GCU. In meetings with enrollment counselors, prospective students were presented with a “Net Price Calculator” that inaccurately represented the number of credits and the cost required to earn their doctorate degree, a move seemingly designed to induce enrollment.

The Burden of Non-Credit Continuation Courses

Moreover, about 34% of the continuation credits offered no credit hours towards the degree, meaning they did not qualify for federal aid and thus had to be financed out-of-pocket or through private loans by the students.

The DOE Fines Will Not Provide Refunds for Overpayments

The DOE Notice Letter makes clear that the fines imposed on GCU are intended to punish the institution for its wrongdoing but makes no provisions for refunds or compensation for the affected doctoral students and graduates who were victims of GCU’s deceptive practices and overpaid for their degrees by tens of thousands of dollars.

Recent Developments:

  • Imposition of Fine: The U.S. Education Department has fined GCU $37.7 million, citing deceptive practices. The fine is calculated at $5,000 per student, impacting 7,547 students who enrolled in doctoral programs from 2018 to 2023.
  • University’s Response: GCU has categorically denied all accusations, labeling the government’s claims as “lies” and “deceptive,” and intends to contest these allegations.
  • Dispute over For-Profit Status: While the Education Department treats GCU as a for-profit institution under federal student aid rules, the university disputes this classification. The IRS recognizes GCU as a nonprofit for tax purposes.

The Carlson Law Firm Can Help

The Carlson Law Firm is dedicated to protecting the rights of students misled by GCU’s actions. We believe that we must hold educational institutions accountable when they engage in fraudulent and deceptive conduct that harms students and graduates. Education is the great social equalizer; it should elevate, not oppress. Education should never be used as a tool to line the pockets of corporations by exploiting and defrauding the students that place their trust in the education system. 

The Carlson Law Firm has been representing and protecting clients in Texas and across the nation since 1976. During this time, we have built a reputation for success and have received numerous awards. Our firm is committed to delivering exceptional service and representation but more importantly, we provide you with an experienced team that has your back, one-hundred percent.

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