Liberty University surpasses 100k online students
The state’s largest university by enrollment has offered distance learning since 1985.
Liberty University announced Tuesday that it has surpassed 100,000 online students. The Lynchburg-based university’s previous online enrollment record was 98,000 students in 2014, and as of January 2020, it remained the state’s largest university by enrollment.
“Liberty has been a leader in providing distance education as an alternative to the traditional classroom since the mid-1980s,” Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement. “Meeting this enrollment goal at this time shows that our programs remain an attractive option for working adults who need the flexibility, convenience, and affordability that our online programs provide.”
The private Christian university’s distance learning program started in 1985 when the university’s School of Lifelong Learning started offering mail-order courses through VHS tapes. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Liberty began offering its programs online.
Liberty now has 450 of its academic programs online, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral degree offerings.
“I remember stepping into this role in 2005 when we were excited to enroll 9,000 online students,” Ron Kennedy, executive vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said in a statement. “We made it our mission to meet people’s needs — giving them affordable tuition so that as many people as possible could benefit from a Christ-centered education.”
In January, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed cutting Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) aid for online students, which Liberty said would negatively impact more than 2,000 students per year.
The proposed budget called for increasing annual, non-need-based VTAG aid from $3,400 to $4,000 per student for Virginia residents enrolled in on-campus classes at private, nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia, which includes Liberty, Washington & Lee University, the University of Richmond and Hampden-Sydney College. About 23,000 students received VTAG aid in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
The budget bill, which is awaiting the governor’s signature by May 22, includes a proposal to require phasing out VTAG support for online students beginning fall 2020, according to SCHEV.
“The language makes allowance for those students that would normally be taking classes on campus but are required to attend online due to COVID-19,” SCHEV spokesperson Laura Osberger said.
“We’ll have something more to say about VTAG soon,” university spokesperson Scott Lamb said Tuesday.