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Biden just imposed the largest fine ever on a Christian college

OpinionBiden just imposed the largest fine ever on a Christian college

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In its latest assault on institutions that fail to adhere to its ideological bent, the Biden administration just imposed the largest fine in the history of the U.S. Department of Education on Grand Canyon University (GCU) — a school whose motto is “private, Christian, and affordable.” And incredibly, the penalty is 10 times bigger than that levied against schools who covered up some of the worst sex offenders in U.S. history. 

By any metric, Phoenix-based GCU is a success story. It has exploded from a tiny school with less than 1,000 students and few course offerings to one of the largest private schools in the country, offering degrees in every conceivable discipline — all without raising tuition on students in over 15 years.  

One would think that such success would earn the praises of the Department of Education, an agency purportedly dedicated to ensuring high quality education for America’s students. Instead, GCU earned itself a target on its own back, courtesy of higher education regulators.  

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Once an acolyte of Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Richard Cordray, took power at the department and he and his cronies made it a mission to destroy institutions that do not subscribe to the prevailing orthodoxy at government-run schools.  

DOE building in Washington

The U.S. Department of Education went after Grand Canyon University with a massive $37.7 million fine. (Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The department appears to have a special animus for GCU, which has not only successfully disrupted the higher education industry but has also tangled with the federal government over its nonprofit status.  

It all came to a head in November, when the department assessed a $37.7 million fine against GCU, the largest in agency history by a long shot. By way of comparison, the department assessed a $2.4 million fine against Penn State University for failing to report the crimes of serial pedophile and football coach Jerry Sandusky, and a $4.5 million fine against Michigan State University when that school refused to address sexual assaults committed by now-disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar.   

Regulators in the GCU case claim that the university violated federal disclosure laws by insufficiently disclosing to PhD students that they may have to take continuing courses while completing their doctoral dissertations. In other words, the allegation is that the most highly educated students at GCU can’t read tuition brochures.

This is pretextual nonsense. The department announced its fine against GCU with a major press release where it claimed that “GCU lied about the cost of its doctoral programs.”  

Notably, the department has not cited any student complaints, but instead made a number of conclusory statements that do not appear to be supported by actual facts. In any other context – where a party is not protected by governmental immunity – the department’s media fanfare would be considered defamation.  

The real motivation for department bureaucrats seems clear: even if they can’t prove their allegations against GCU, they intend for the process to be the punishment.   

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The Goldwater Institute, where we work, has requested records of this government collusion. If the agency refuses to be transparent about its unprecedented actions against GCU, we will sue them to compel disclosure.

In the meantime, GCU deserves credit for standing up to the bullies in Washington against this extraordinary assault on higher education while continuing its efforts to educate America’s college students efficiently and inexpensively.  

The department appears to have a special animus for GCU, which has not only successfully disrupted the higher education industry but has also tangled with the federal government over its nonprofit status.  

This is a school that has found innovative solutions for everything from the nationwide nursing shortage to graduating students into high-demand and high-paying trade jobs. It has Division I athletics in dozens of sports and a thriving campus life with students dedicated to serving the surrounding neighborhood, which is economically distressed but substantially improving because of GCU’s presence. Its students graduate with less debt than an average student nationwide.

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By way of comparison, public universities nationwide have raised tuition on resident students by an average of more than 150% over the past two decades, despite benefiting from taxpayer-funded subsidies that GCU does not receive.   

Just don’t bother telling the woke Biden administration bureaucrats, who are apparently more concerned with indoctrination than with graduating successful students.    

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute and Director of the Institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.  

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