What you’ve heard about us is true: We are big.
Liberty University ranks as the largest Christian university in the world, the largest university in Virginia, the second largest non-profit and the fifth largest overall university in the United States. And we’ve grown most explosively during the past decade: from 38,000 enrolled to over 110,000. Our online programs drove that growth, with the rapid spread of high-speed internet making it possible for everyday people to gain a high-quality education at a low-dollar price point.
When you have this much growth as fast as we have seen it come, it can take a while for the word to get out. But make no mistake—we want Liberty’s story to spread. That’s why I and a half-dozen of my leadership team recently gave journalist Alec MacGillis as much interview time as he desired. Ninety minutes later, he wrapped up his questions, and a month later we read his piece—released this week in The New York Times Magazine: “How Liberty University Built a Billion-Dollar Empire Online.”
As Mr. MacGillis rightly points out in his article, our Lynchburg, Virginia campus has seen constant construction. Seniors attend class in buildings that didn’t exist when they were freshmen. Cranes currently litter the skyline, as workers build our new business school and upgrade our football stadium to accommodate our transition into the highest level of the NCAA. The construction dust serves as a testament to our abiding belief that we can always be improving the experience of our students on campus and online.
As part of this philosophy, we welcome all perspectives and feedback and appreciate that the size and scope of our mission will bring warranted complaints about our performance. However, there were several points made in the fact-checking process of Mr. MacGillis’s article that markedly misrepresent our mission, including the many ways we have succeeded in serving our remote students.
We are proud of the institution we have created and the minds we have expanded, challenged, and enlightened – and take matters questioning our rigor, seriousness, and dedication to education very seriously.
For example, MacGillis quotes an unnamed former employee from our recruitment center as saying Liberty would admit a student with a GPA of 0.5. That’s just not true. The minimum GPA for admittance in good standing is 2.0. And the lowest GPA possible for admittance is 1.5—but even those cases are few, involving students who make an appeal and enter with an “on caution” status with agreed-upon conditions for continuance. So, the 30-year old who a decade earlier skipped algebra class endlessly to step outside and get high—we have a pathway they can walk down to prove themselves worthy of higher education. We make no apologies for this. But admitting a 0.5 GPA student? No.
MacGillis takes pains to explain our business model: We keep costs low, which keeps our tuition low. Prospective students have many options for higher education. They expect both quality and value—and the thoughtful consumer will do diligent research and land at a school that delivers both.
Does Liberty deliver both? 100,000+ current students have decided that we do.
Of course, even with low tuition rates, people will still need financial aid. The U.S. government has been in the business of helping students finance their education since the GI Bill of 1944 sent World War II vets out of combat zones and into classrooms. Liberty has 30,000 students from the military or military families. Last year, we became the first university in Virginia to be designated as a Purple Heart University, in recognition of our support of military members and their families.
The U.S. Government also awards Pell grant money to students based on their financial need. They can take their Pell grant dollars to any accredited school of their choice. Loans and grants are awarded to students—not to the university.
What Mr. MacGillis didn’t know to report is how many higher education administrators call or come to Liberty to “discover our secret.” The secret is that there is no secret. People simply want the benefits of quality education. So figure out how to provide them with that “product” (elitist, Higher-Ed types get ruffled when I use that term). Then, deliver the product to them at a price they can afford, and offer it online so they don’t have to disrupt their family’s life. Do this and more students will come to your school too.
What you’ve heard about us is true: We dream big.
My father began Liberty to train champions who would change the world for Christ. In fulfillment of that mission, we will continue our efforts to ensure that education is accessible and affordable to everyone, regardless of personal or financial circumstance, and to provide the highest quality education to all of our students.
Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of Liberty Univeristy