In his first address to the student body this academic year, Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. briefed them on the school’s steady stream of expansion projects, which includes both academic and facility upgrades — the newest being major additions to Williams Stadium and the Vines Center.
A news conference on these projects was held following convocation.
Falwell wanted the students to be the first to hear the news, he said from his office the day before.
“They deserve to know what’s happening on their campus and where our priorities are,” he said.
And with that, he prefaced Friday’s announcement with news of how the school is first and foremost enhancing academic and student life offerings to make the college experience more enjoyable and productive.
|Athletics Director Jeff Barber|
“In recent years, Liberty has increased its spending on academic improvements far more than we have increased our tuition,” Falwell told students. “Much of what we did spend on athletic and recreational facilities has been covered by donations. Liberty is proud that we have spent so much on academics and other items that are essential to the learning experience and the everyday life of students on campus.”
Liberty University has spent more than $70 million on facility improvements in the past two years.
Nearly 90 percent of those improvements were intended to enhance the university’s learning atmosphere. Specifically, $62 million was spent between July 2007 and August 2009 to upgrade classrooms, labs, campus infrastructure, academic support facilities, dining halls and dorms. During the same period, LU spent $7.9 million to upgrade its athletics and recreational facilities.
“We have not borrowed a penny to make these campus improvements,” Falwell said. “God is truly blessing this university.”
The figures are contained in a recent report by the university’s financial planning and budgeting office. The figures include only capital improvements and do not include operational costs like the university’s new bus service or the annual faculty compensation increases that have occurred over the last eight years.
LU began the academic year this week with 11,773 residential students. For the past two years, LU has had to cut off resident enrollment when it met a predetermined goal. Enrollment management personnel are developing strategies to keep enrollment around the 11,800 mark this year, while requiring higher applicant GPAs and performance on SATs.
“Higher academic standards help to create a better learning environment for all students,” Falwell said. “That has to translate into a better education. It will result in graduates who have less trouble finding employment and are more likely to support the university when they leave. There will be a lot of benefits to Liberty University down the road.”
Liberty University Online enrollment is expected to top 50,000 students this academic year.
Falwell said LU was performing well financially even before the school’s online program grew so large, generating revenue surpluses in both the online and residential programs.
“One of our biggest goals two years ago was to begin building endowment at Liberty,” he said. “As a result of generous contributions and the efficient operation of both the residential and online programs, that endeavor has been hugely successful above and beyond our highest hopes.”
But when the stock market crashed and the economy soured, LU’s Board of Trustees decided it would be prudent for Liberty to invest a portion of the new endowment in itself.
Those investments continue. In addition to the $70 million spent on capital projects over the last two years, the university announced plans for a new performing arts theater, now under construction at Campus North, and a new stadium for Liberty’s soccer and track and field programs inside the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex.
On Friday, after a video was shown highlighting the upcoming football season, Athletics Director Jeff Barber presented details on the Williams Stadium and Vines Center projects. But even with these great facilities that will contribute to a successful NCAA Division I athletic program, he said athletics is still not the overall focus in Liberty’s mission.
“Athletics is not the most important thing at Liberty University — there are many dimensions that make this university what it is … theater, worship, academics, of course. Athletics can bring great attention and focus to this university and what the real mission of this university is …. sending out young champions for Christ. Athletics can shine a light on that mission,” Barber said.
Williams Stadium, home to Liberty Flames football, will be expanded from 12,000 to 30,000 seats over the next five years. It is also used for the school’s graduation ceremonies. A new state-of-the-art scoreboard was installed this summer with a 24-foot tall high-definition video screen that can be also used for student activities, such as movie nights. Falwell kicked off the fundraising campaign Friday, and, if it’s successful, he said construction on the stadium could begin as early as this fall after the last football game.
The Vines Center, home to the men’s and women’s basketball programs, will be expanded from 8,000 to 12,000 seats. It is also used for LU’s convocations three days a week, already with an overflowing crowd.
After Barber spoke, Falwell reminded students of the grand opening of Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre on Saturday. A video was shown highlighting the big day, which will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an extreme expo with pro riders from the U.S. and U.K., on-site vendors offering food, sportswear and accessories and more.
Adding Snowflex is just another way Liberty is offering students the “big-college” experience, Falwell said.
“The goal from the beginning has been to have a successful NCAA Division I athletic program, academic excellence in a wide variety of disciplines, world-class programs and facilities and even world-class recreation,” he said Friday. “Most Christian colleges offer a ‘small-college experience’ for Christian young people. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, the vision for Liberty University from the beginning was to create for evangelical Christian young people a ‘big college experience’ … to offer everything that a major university offers but with a distinctively Christian emphasis.”
Watch for more news on facility upgrades around campus in the upcoming issue of the Liberty Journal.
Dr. Elmer Towns, Liberty University co-founder, spoke to the students about their “roadmap” for life. “Do you have a roadmap for what you want to do for God?” he asked. He told them God had put them on their road, giving them the home they grew up in and knowing them even when they were formed in the womb. He challenged them to start making commitments now that will lead them down the path God has chosen for them.
Towns also spoke about Liberty’s humble beginnings and about trusting, along with Dr. Jerry Falwell, that God would bless their commitment to the ministry.
Glorious Unseen performed at Friday’s convocation. They will be giving a free concert tonight in the Tilley Student Center at 9 p.m. The event is being sponsored by the Student Activities office.