History of Liberty

In 1971, Pastor Jerry Falwell Sr. challenged his congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. to establish a Christian college whose students would “go out in all walks of life to impact this world for God.” Soon after, Lynchburg Baptist College became a reality.

Through those founding years, students and faculty were inspired to influence the moral and ethical course of America. Subsequently, the school’s name officially changed to Liberty Baptist College in 1976 and the colors were changed to red, white, and blue. The college achieved full accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 1980.

By 1985, the school had become recognized as a fully­ accredited university, adding programs and garnering recognition from both mainstream culture and the world of academia. Liberty also pioneered a distance learning program that year, launching what is now known as Liberty University Online.

With the passing of the founder in 2007, his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., became chancellor and president of the university. At the 2007 Commencement ceremony, just days after his father’s passing, the now President Falwell proclaimed, “We have prepared for this transition for 15 years or more. All is well at Liberty.”

In only four short decades, Liberty has grown to become the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation, and the largest Christian university in the world.

Liberty’s journey has been one of facing giants, making the impossible possible, watching fervent prayer move mountains, and Training Champions for Christ.

Then & Now Gallery

Standing on the shoulders of more than two millennia of Christian scholarship, Liberty University emphasizes the pursuit of knowledge in every discipline. A world-class liberal arts university with 16 schools and colleges, Liberty offers more than 550 programs from the certificate to the doctoral level ranging from medicine, biology, chemistry, and engineering, to design, music, religion, law, and more.

Founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty has grown from a small college of 154 students into the nation’s fifth largest university and the largest Christian university in the world. Preparing students to be doctors, educators, ministers, lawyers, aviators, counselors, engineers, and more, Liberty is committed to developing tomorrow’s leaders — men and women of character whose impact will extend beyond their professions to change the world around them. 

Our Founder

Dr. Jerry Falwell

Aug. 11, 1933 - May 15, 2007

In June of 1956, at the age of 22, Jerry Falwell started Thomas Road Baptist Church in his hometown of Lynchburg, Va., with 35 members. Also in 1956, Falwell began the “Old Time Gospel Hour,” a nationally syndicated radio and television ministry that has led millions to Christ.

In 1967, Falwell implemented his vision to build a Christian educational system for evangelical youth. He began with the establishment of Lynchburg Christian Academy, an accredited Christian day school for grades K-12 . In 1971, he founded Liberty University, an accredited Christian university for evangelical believers. In 1985 Falwell announced his goal of 50,000 students.

Today his vision has been fulfilled, with more than 15,000 students attending classes on campus in Lynchburg, Va., and more than 94,000 students taking courses through Liberty University Online.

Read full biography

University Timeline

  • 1971
  • 1973
  • 1974
  • 1976
  • 1978
  • 1980
  • 1981
  • 1985
  • 1987
  • 1988
  • 1990
  • 1992
  • 1994
  • 1995
  • 1996
  • 1999
  • 2002
  • 2003
  • 2004
  • 2005
  • 2006
  • 2007
  • 2008
  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • 2013
  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
1971

154 students enrolled, tuition $200, Lynchburg Baptist College is founded. First section of Liberty Mountain is purchased for $1,250,000. "Flames" team name, "Knowledge Aflame," and school colors (green and gold) chosen.

1973

Lynchburg Baptist Theological Seminary founded.

1974

May 22, first graduation. Dr. J. Harold Smith, first commencement speaker.

1976

School colors are changed from green and gold to red, white, and blue. The Liberty Bell is unveiled. Lynchburg Baptist College becomes Liberty Baptist College.

1978

Sunday, May 7, 4,000 people gather for the first-ever commencement held on the mountain. It is the college's fifth graduation. Known as the "Convocation of Champions."

1980

December 17, Liberty Baptist College receives full accreditation as a liberal arts college by the regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

1981

10 years later, enrollment is 3,528 and tuition is $1,600. Associate program begins, 34 majors offered. January – full acceptance into the NCAA.

1985

May 6, Liberty Baptist College becomes Liberty University. The distance learning program, now known as Liberty University Online, begins as the Liberty University School of Lifelong Learning.

1987

Liberty University offers its first graduate degrees, a Doctor of Ministry and a Master of Business Administration.

1988

Liberty becomes the largest private university in Virginia. 11,000 students from 50 states and 30 nations (combined enrollment).

1990

Vines Center and Williams Stadium completed.

1992

The Reber-Thomas Dining Hall is completed that summer.

1994

Men's basketball play in first NCAA athletics tournament for Liberty.

1995

Two major benefactors purchased $30 million and $40 million of Liberty's debts.

1996

Liberty's Silver Anniversary – "Twenty-Five Years of Miracles," a hardback commemorative book, was published featuring stories and images from the previous 25 years of Liberty's history.

1999

An anonymous $9 million gift is donated to Liberty to be used in the construction of the three additional floors of DeMoss Hall.

2002

First-annual Winterfest, more than 5,000 attend, over 250 decisions for Christ.

2003

East Campus dorms completed. Second, third, and fourth floors of DeMoss Hall completed.

2004

Green Hall is donated by Hobby Lobby and Green family. For the first time, both the men's and women's basketball teams won Big South Conference tournaments in the same year. The 450-foot-long pedestrian tunnel that runs under U.S. Route 460 was completed.

2005

Lady Flames Basketball goes to NCAA Sweet 16 tournament.

2006

LaHaye Ice Center opens. Liberty's Debate Team ranked No. 1 in the nation.

2007

Chancellor and Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell dies on May 15. "LU" monogram put on mountain. Liberty's distance learning program, now known as Liberty University Online, tops 20,000 enrolled students.

2008

First graduating class from Liberty University School of Law. The third floor of DeMoss Hall was renovated and opened for student use. The Towns-Alumni Lecture Hall, an expansion to the B.R. Lakin School of Religion, was completed.

2009

Liberty received the highest accreditation level VI from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Construction completed on the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre. The new freestanding Liberty University Barnes & Noble Bookstore opened on Main Campus.

2010

Liberty reached Dr. Falwell's goal of 50,000 enrolled students. Receives AA bond rating from Standard & Poor's. Liberty named among top 10 conservative colleges in the U.S. The expansion of Williams Stadium was completed. The School of Aeronautics purchased Falwell Aviation. Tower Theater at Green Hall opened.

2011

Liberty became the nation's eighth-largest four-year university according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Liberty gifted The Sports Racket 15 minutes from campus. Construction on the Wards Road pedestrian bridge completed. Equestrian Center on Liberty Mountain opened.

2012

Hancock Welcome Center is constructed. Groundbreaking for the Jerry Falwell Library begins. First voting precinct on campus.

2013

Enrollment exceeds 100,000 students. The university launches rebranding effort. Film partnership with Kirk Cameron is announced. Sears building is purchased at River Ridge Mall for $6.9 million. Liberty Baseball Stadium, Vines Center basketball practice facility, and football practice fields are completed.

2014

Jerry Falwell Library, Center for Medical and Health Sciences, first Residential Commons, vehicular tunnel, LaHaye Student Union expansion, and Vines Center upgrade are completed. Law School celebrates 10 years. College of Osteopathic Medicine welcomes first class. Men's indoor track wins 17th straight conference title. Football takes first trip to the playoffs.

2015

The Science Hall, new School of Music building, expanded LaHaye Ice Center, second Residential Commons, and Kamphuis Field at Liberty Softball Stadium open. Ground is broken for the Academic Performance Center and DeMoss Hall expansion, as well as Freedom Tower, home to the newly named Rawlings School of Divinity. LU Send Now humanitarian relief program is introduced.

2016

Ranked by Carnegie as a Doctoral University, hosted the Virginia Commonwealth Games, and created the Center for Applied Research & Scholarship. New London Airport was acquired, and ground was broken on the indoor football practice facility, indoor track, and natatorium.

2017

U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the first commencement address of his presidency to the class of 2017 and a crowd of 50,000. The NCAA approved Liberty's waiver request for the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) reclassification process.

"From the beginning, the goal was not to create another Bible college. The vision was to create academic excellence, world-class facilities, NCAA Division I athletics, and student activities, and to provide it all with a distinctively Christian environment."

—Jerry Falwell, President