Class-Action Suit Against Grand Canyon University Moves to Arizona Federal Court

Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University Joseph Flaherty
A class-action lawsuit claiming Grand Canyon University carried out a “bait-and-switch scheme” to squeeze more tuition dollars out of its students was filed Wednesday in federal court in Arizona.

The five students who brought the case against the private Christian university on behalf of themselves and others say they’ve been forced to pay for extra classes that had “no value” in order to finish their doctoral degrees.

The plaintiffs originally brought the case against GCU in March in a Georgia court, but the defendants removed it to federal court. Last month, a U.S. District Court in Georgia dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction.

In Wednesday’s filing, plaintiffs argue the case can be tried in Arizona because of its circumstances, including that many claims in the case are based on events that happened in Arizona. One plaintiff is listed as an Arizona resident; all five were enrolled online in doctoral programs at the Phoenix-based university.

Eileen Carr, Samuel Stanton, and three unnamed students say they were led to believe the school’s doctoral degree would take 60 credit hours to complete, but later realized that timeline was “literally impossible.”

The lawsuit argues the school “established mandatory benchmarks and milestones that cannot be achieved within the 60-hour format of its doctoral programs,” forcing students to take additional “research continuation courses” until they can finish all the requirements. Those three-credit continuation courses cost nearly $2,000 apiece.

If students still couldn't complete their dissertations after five three-credit continuation courses, the complaint says, they had to take even more zero-credit continuation courses, extending their enrollment.

For example, the case argues that plaintiff Jane Doe 1 was “victimized” by the program, taking at least 20 continuation courses in total. During those courses, it says, Doe wasn’t given “prompt and meaningful feedback” from the university that could have helped her finish more quickly.

The case suggests GCU knows that after paying thousands of dollars, “most students will not leave the program even though they realize they have been duped.”

It also alleges there's another problem: Students taking only one continuation course don’t qualify for loan deferment, so they can be forced to pay school loans while still in school.

Neither lawyers for the plaintiffs nor GCU officials responded immediately to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have brought other suits against GCU, including one that alleges it didn’t refund tuition for students who dropped classes, and another that alleges it didn’t properly represent the states in which the school's degrees would apply.

While GCU has not yet publicly responded to the most recent claim, it issued a statement in July that accused the law firm, Webb, Klase & Lemond, LLC, of recruiting plaintiffs for class-action lawsuits. The statement, which was in response to an Arizona Republic article about one of the cases, argued that the law firm had filed and publicized “baseless” suits against GCU.

GCU was the first nonprofit university in the U.S. to become a for-profit company in 2004, and just last year regained its nonprofit status. Around 92,000 students are enrolled in online and in-person programs combined, the school said Thursday.

A summons filed Thursday gave Grand Canyon University 21 days to respond.

See the lawsuit below:
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Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.