Liberty University Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell Jr. today publicly questioned the reluctance of a Lynchburg, Va. newspaper to clarify raw U.S. Department of Education federal student aid data the newspaper reported in an article earlier this year.
The premise of the March 27 article in The News & Advance was that Liberty University students received $445 million in financial aid in the last fiscal year, the highest total of any four-year university in Virginia and eighth-highest total among all universities nationwide.
The article did not include the fact that Liberty is the largest four-year college in Virginia and the eighth largest four-year university in the nation nor that it currently receives no direct federal assistance.
Falwell decided to issue his statement after numerous agenda-driven websites and news outlets drew erroneous conclusions based on data provided by The News & Advance report.
Falwell said several attempts by Liberty to persuade the newspaper to publish follow-up information on the data have been unsuccessful.
“The News & Advance and its parent company, Media General, refused to do a follow-up article on the March 27 report, which appeared on the newspaper’s front page and was circulated nationwide by the Associated Press,” Falwell said.
“Due to factual omissions in the newspaper’s research, some misimpressions could be reasonably drawn from the data provided,” Falwell wrote in a May 5 letter to Terry H. Jamerson, the newspaper’s publisher, and Donna M. Reed, Media General’s Vice President of Content.
“The article never indicated that 86 percent of the federal money provided to Liberty students is in the form of loans that are repaid to the federal government with interest,” Falwell wrote.
In addition, Falwell said the article omitted the fact that approximately $200 million of the $445 million is refunded to students, who spend it in their local communities to cover living expenses while attending college.
The article also omitted the fact that the student loan default rate for Liberty graduates is about half the national average.
“Liberty students finance their education just like college students do at every other university in the nation, except our students receive slightly less than the average student in federal need-based grants like Pell, and our students pay off their student loans better than the average college student does nationally,” Falwell said.
Liberty students financed their education through private lenders before the student loan industry was nationalized by the Obama administration in recent years.
Lynchburg, Va. is a relatively small city and the economic impact of Liberty University on the city is significant.
In addition to rent and local purchases by students, Liberty University spends tens of millions of the tuition dollars paid by the students with the proceeds of their federal loans with local businesses, including The News & Advance.
“Last year, Liberty spent approximately $76,000 with the newspaper,” Falwell said.
Liberty University Online students spend proceeds from their federal student aid in communities across the nation, Falwell said. Liberty University Online educates students in all 50 states.
In Lynchburg, the university has upgraded its athletic facilities, which brings thousands of visitors into the area for NCAA Division I athletic events and for state championship football games. Liberty has one of the few indoor track and field facilities in Virginia and serves as a regional hub for thousands of Virginia high school athletes participating in winter-time track and field events.
Liberty has also built a unique artificial ski slope – the only one of its kind in North America – that is used by Liberty students as well as ski enthusiasts from Central Virginia and around the country. Liberty also has an indoor skating rink and an indoor soccer center that have become recreational venues for many Central Virginia families and tourism attractions for the region.
A study commissioned by the university showed that Liberty alone is responsible for about 60,000 hotel occupancies in and around Lynchburg in any given year.
Liberty is embarking on a $120 million building program, which will upgrade its campus, reduce road miles logged by buses serving students and create hundreds of construction jobs in the Lynchburg region.
The number of people Liberty University employs has increased from 2,563 in 2005 to 5,499 in 2011. In the past decade, Liberty has created 4,115 new jobs without receiving one cent of governmental economic development money afforded to other developing businesses.
Recently, Liberty received a AA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s because of its prudent financial management in recent years. That rating puts Liberty among the elite colleges in America for financial stability and was a key factor in Liberty launching an ambitious campus transformation that will enhance its academic offerings and the overall quality of student life for years to come.
In its profile of Lynchburg, Moody Corp. has said that Liberty has become a key stabilizing factor in Lynchburg’s once withering economy. Primarily because of Liberty, Lynchburg is being touted as the site for a new regional civic center.
“As a beneficiary of Liberty’s success itself, it is bewildering to me that The News & Advance would want to create the misimpression that Liberty and Liberty’s students receive a disproportionate share of federal aid,” Falwell said. “If these students had not attended Liberty, they would have likely obtained similar federal student loans to attend other colleges and universities in other cities,” Falwell added.
The Liberty-commissioned economic study, conducted by Mangum Economic Consulting, LLC, a Richmond, Va. firm, found that Liberty’s contribution to Central Virginia goes beyond dollars and cents.
Liberty students, faculty and staff contributed 674,879 hours of service in Lynchburg in 2009 with the average student volunteering 4.3 hours each month. The report says that the monetary value of these volunteer hours – just at minimum wage – would equal $4.9 million.