If you’ve followed media reports on higher education lately, you may have noticed discussion about universities spending at unsustainable levels in order to win the prestige race. These schools are pushing each other toward eventual bankruptcy or taxpayer bailout by trying to spend more than their peers on facilities, research, and faculty benefits in an effort to move up in the national ratings system for colleges and universities — a system that Bill Gates called perverse in Forbes Magazine in January.
Gates said, “The problem is that it gives credit to schools that attract the best students rather than schools that take poorly prepared students and help them get ready for the next stage. The control metric shouldn’t be that kids aren’t so qualified. It should be whether colleges are doing their job to teach them.”
Liberty University was pushed to the forefront of this discussion when The Washington Post published an article in March charting our transformation to an “evangelical mega-university.” In noting our surge in enrollment and highly successful online program that places us in a category all our own, Nick Anderson, the Post’s higher education reporter, called us a “market leader at the crossroads of religion and higher education.”
But then came the tough question: Is our “turbocharged growth,” as he called it, diminishing our academic reputation?
I explained to him that it is Liberty’s goal to redefine what is considered an academically prestigious university in the future. We believe the top universities will not be considered prestigious based on how many students they turn away but rather by how many they accept and how well they educate those students and help them realize their potential. The business model now employed by most major universities is not sustainable over the long term, but Liberty’s model is and will, by necessity, be adopted by universities nationwide in coming decades. Liberty will seek to recruit the best faculty, but our definition of who is best may differ from other schools. We will continue to seek out faculty who are committed to teaching excellence and to Liberty’s Christian mission.
During our popular College For A Weekend events each semester, I speak directly to parents who are considering sending their children here. I tell them Liberty’s story, about its code of conduct that encourages a lifestyle rooted in biblical morality, forgiveness, and restoration while fostering an atmosphere that allows students to enjoy their college years, about its unwavering commitment to the fundamentals of the faith and to academic freedom, unfettered by the chains of political correctness so prevalent at other schools, and about its commitment to our great nation. A university in Maine has been under scrutiny recently because they have no course requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation; not even history majors are required to take a course in American history.
As I told parents of prospective students last month, not only does Liberty appreciate, respect, and promote the founding principles of this country, including free enterprise and limited government, we live out those principles. Liberty operates like a business, within our means, but also setting big goals. This practice has allowed Liberty to not only keep our tuition and fees in the lowest 25 percent of all private colleges, but it has also allowed us to build the net worth of the university to equal much older schools like Pepperdine, Georgetown, and Tulane, according to the Post. This is important because many universities in the New World strayed from their theological foundations in order to attract donations needed for survival. Liberty’s financial strength will help us avoid a similar fate, we believe. We want to be the first school in the country to achieve academic and athletic prominence but also to remain true to our Christian roots for generations to come.
Any business leader loves to be able to say, “The product speaks for itself.” At our 40th Commencement, we announced that Liberty’s enrollment topped 100,000 students for the first time on May 7. We honored more than 15,000 graduates and heard from Fox News reporter and Liberty alumna Shannon Bream. As you read stories of these graduates in the following pages, they do speak for themselves. Liberty University is an exciting place to be, and people are taking notice of our students’ and graduates’ accomplishments as we become a recognizable force in higher education.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013, who have joined more than 200,000 Liberty alumni around the world.
Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Chancellor and President