Grand Canyon University, a for-profit Christian college located in Phoenix, Ariz., now has a Division I athletics program. Inside Higher Ed reports that GCU will become a member of the Western Athletic Conference, as the first for-profit college to join a Division I NCAA conference.
For-profit universities make up a notoriously shady sector of the education business, functioning as money mills rather than schools. Mounting complaints and lawsuits against for-profit colleges have demonstrated that many of them have a singular purpose: Enroll as many students as possible, charge those students as much tuition as possible, and worry about education last. The main tactic used to achieve this goal is to target people of low means, promise them a valuable but expensive degree, and then allow those people to take on thousands upon thousands of dollars of federal financial aid money, which all ends up in the hands of the school. Over the past few years, these kinds of schools have been getting sued left and right for misrepresenting the value of their degrees (no, spending $80,000 on a degree in video-game design is not a good idea), inflating post-graduate salary numbers, and paying recruiters based on how many students they enroll.
Grand Canyon was sued by the federal government in 2008 for violating the Department of Education's "incentive compensation ban," which states that no school that accepts federal financial aid can compensate its enrollment counselors based on their enrollment numbers. According to Ronald Irwin, a former employee of GCU and the lead plaintiff in the case, that's exactly what the school was doing. The official complaint (embedded below) alleged that GCU ranked enrollment counselors and adjusted their salaries based on the number of students they enrolled per month. It also claimed that enrollment quotas were placed on these counsellors, and that those who did not meet their quotas were fired or demoted. The complaint also included this:
In order to boost their numbers, GCU enrollment counselors enroll students without reviewing their transcripts to determine their academic qualifications to attend the university. The pressure to achieve enrollment numbers is so great that Plaintiff is informed and believes, and therefore alleges, that some enrollment counselors have submitted applications containing fictitious names and social security numbers and other(s) have committed forgery on admissions documents, including but not limited to scholarship forms, fee waivers and other memoranda of understanding required for an enrollment number to count for the counselor.
Imagine Boiler Room, but in some overlit college office with a palm tree outside the window, rather than an investment firm.
GCU eventually reached a settlement in the case, and was forced to pay $5.2 million to Irwin and the federal government.
Nevertheless, business is booming for GCU, which enrolls 6,500 on-campus students and another 42,000 in online programs. Undergraduates account for 24,000 of those, on-campus and off-, and only 24 percent of them are likely to graduate. Complaints about shady practices are still very easy to find. Here's a collection of recent horror stories from former students and employees. This one is especially grim. Furthermore, 188 complaints about GCU have been filed to the Better Business Bureau over the last three years.
Why would the WAC allow the GCU Antelopes—"'Lopes" to their friends—into its conference? Desperation, most likely. The WAC has been decimated by conference realignment, dropping out of football entirely. So what's not to like about a university that boasts a massive student body and spent $9.5 million on its athletics programs last year?
Here we have the NCAA arriving at its logical endgame. After countless, useless investigations into the purity of its scholar-athletes, it's opening the door to a chop shop where even the scholar-scholars come with bogus transcripts. GCU is a shameless, unsavory, straight-up business proposition—the 'Lopes and the NCAA were made for each other.