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Faith-Focused Education

By Ryan Klinker, March 15, 2023

At a time when more families are turning to online education at all learning levels, Liberty University Online Academy has continued to expand its kindergarten through high school program, hitting record enrollment at 18,400 students last year.

Sherri Deeder of Bluffs, Ill., is a grandmother to a middle school student and a high school student with LUOA. She helps her grandchildren with classes while their parents work.

Sherri Deeder with her granddaughter, Taylor, and grandson, Braylen

“The LUOA curriculum is rigorous, it’s challenging, and keeps our students so engaged,” she said. “The flexibility is unbelievable. But the most important aspect in my opinion is that it’s all Bible-based. It strengthens their biblical worldview, and it strengthens their understanding of how (God) is a part of everything.”

Deeder graduated from Liberty in 1994 with a degree in elementary education, so Liberty is a special connection she shares with her grandchildren.

“Their parents bring the kids to our house, we get to have breakfast with them, we get to have school on our schedule, we get to have lunch together, and it’s made us stronger as a family,” she said. “It’s always been my dream that our grandkids attend LU, and they might when the time comes. Every year, we love it more than we did the year before.”

Dr. Chris Rusk, LUOA dean and superintendent, said students tend to come from either a Christian family looking for a faith-based education or a non-Christian household that simply recognizes Liberty’s high-caliber education. In both cases, Rusk said a goal for LUOA is not only to influence the student with the Gospel but also his or
her family.

“We want students to know Christ; we want their parents or guardians to know Christ,” he said. “When we interact, we’re interacting with a family. We’re not changing just one life; we want to change the life of the entire family.”

Rusk said that’s why every course is designed with a biblical mindset.

“When we originally wrote our courses, the first thing we did with our writers was have them sit down in a Christian worldview training session so they could learn how to start with Scripture and work their way out into their individual disciplines. There are a lot of courses out there at other Christian programs that take a secular course and build the Scripture and faith elements on top of it. We believe that it is always best to start with the Bible and then move outward. That way Christ is baked into the course from the start.”

LUOA serves families across the country and even around the world. Over the last four years, students have enrolled from 99 countries — including Malaysia, Vietnam, Qatar, and Iraq.

Many families are attracted to the flexibility of the program, which operates on a rolling enrollment schedule, with start dates every Monday. The 10-month curriculum allows families to decide if they want to study year-round or add in their own breaks. The curriculum is self-paced, so students can spend extra time on subjects they struggle with and not get left behind like some do in a traditional classroom. Students can work ahead responsibly in order to accommodate their schedules and learning tempo.

Sarah Keturah Colley and her daughter, Aurora Cain

Sarah Keturah Colley of Tampa, Fla., enrolled in LUOA in 2012. As a teen actress, she regularly traveled with her family to auditions and theatre programs, so she had to take her education with her.

“I wanted to make sure I got an education, something Christian, but I also wanted to pursue my dreams in acting,” Colley said. “It worked really well. If I had to miss a couple days, I was able to do it on the weekend. I was able to make it fit my busy schedule.”

Colley made LUOA a family tradition last year when she enrolled her daughter, Aurora Cain, in kindergarten. Aurora is on the autism spectrum, and Colley said she tends to get overstimulated in a typical classroom.

“We tried different daycares and schools, and she just was not on the pace she needed,” Colley said in November. “I felt like she was going to be at a school that was going to tear her spirit down and not let her be at the right level in life, so I looked at other options. We’ve been on for two months now, and the words that she’s saying and what I’m seeing her do, it’s amazing. I can definitely see her being in it for the long run.”

Liberty University, a pioneer in distance learning and a longtime leader in online education, launched LUOA in 2007. In the last few years, the academy has seen a 41 percent increase in enrollment, which Rusk explains is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more families seeking online alternatives to traditional schools.

“A lot of families moved into an online format (in 2020) and realized that their schools did not know how to do it,” Rusk said. “(Schools) went from nothing to something in a matter of months, and that’s a recipe for disaster. You can’t build an online program in a matter of weeks or months. A lot of families came to our school because we had been in service for over a decade at that point, and when they came to us, they knew we’d been in the online space for a while.”

(Photo by Ellie Richardson)

Making sure students and their families feel connected to others in the program is valuable too. LUOA has multiple ways to connect classmates online and in person, including student clubs, an annual Christmas party, and tailgates prior to Liberty Football games.

“We’re trying to find ways to engage students directly, give them opportunities to interact in a fun but supervised environment to get to know each other,” Rusk said. “Our senior club, for example, lets high school seniors get to know each other so that when they come to campus for graduation, they will already have friends who they get to walk with.”

Deeder said throughout the year, the teachers and advisors frequently connect with her grandchildren. All LUOA students have access to an academic advising team specifically trained in elementary, middle, or high school, and the advisors are readily available for computer issues and prayer requests.

“The teachers reach out to the kids on a weekly basis, asking them what’s going on in their lives and how they can help them,” Deeder said. “The advisors go out of their way to help you too. No matter who you’re in touch with at LUOA, it is a family of people who truly want your kids to succeed.”  

To learn more, visit Liberty.Edu/LUOA, call (866) 418-8741, or email LUOAinfo@liberty.edu

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