How Far We’ve Come
“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 within a distinctively Christian environment.”
— President Jerry Falwell
It started with a mountain and a dream.
In 1971, the Rev. Jerry Falwell dreamed that the world could be filled with doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers, nurses, teachers, artists, and professionals from every walk of life who loved God and were the very best at what they’d been called to be.
When he stood on the mountain where he had hunted and hiked as a child and said a university like no other would one day cover that mountain and train students to become those professionals, some people laughed.
But some people dreamed, and then they prayed.
Fall came, and with it 154 students taught by four full-time faculty. They slept on metal cots in dilapidated hotels, they went to class in middle schools, church rooms, parking lots — anywhere they could take their books and Bibles and learn. They lived on an island in the James River and climbed out of the bus every time it crossed the rickety, wood-slatted bridge because the combined weight of the students and the bus would surely send them all plunging into the river.
But Dr. Falwell saw a university on the mountain, not scattered across town, so they prayed. Two hours in the snow, they prayed, asking God for a campus of their own. Six months later, two buildings stood on that mountain. The seeds planted in prayer were beginning to bloom.
Finances were tight. Faculty taught in unheated rooms in the winter and un-air-conditioned rooms in the summer. Staff served students, never sure if wages would be available. One month the paychecks didn’t come. But classes continued and the staff kept serving because there was a dream for that mountain, and it meant more than a missed paycheck or two.
Still, they prayed.
In 1978, Pomp and Circumstance played for the first time on the mountain — now called Liberty Mountain — and graduates clutched their hard-earned diplomas as they gazed out at the land they had prayed for. Chapel still gathered in a 3,000-seat tent, but buildings were beginning to multiply.
In 1980, Liberty was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges — the highest accreditation possible. In 1985, it became a full-fledged university and started dabbling in a new concept: distance learning. Three years later, 11,000 students attended the school. In the lifespan of an average high school senior, Liberty’s student body had grown to 71 times its original size.
But God wasn’t finished, yet — and He made it obvious He had heard their prayers.
Over the next 30 years, athletics rose to NCAA Division 1 prominence. The school was granted Carnegie research status, earned additional voluntary accreditations, and turned out the only collegiate debate team in the country to sweep all three national tournament rankings in one year — a feat they repeated eight times. The distance learning program pioneered online learning and gathered a hundred thousand students from around the world.
In 2007, the mantle passed from Rev. Falwell to his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., and the university has flourished in ways its founders saw only in their prayers.
A billion-dollar campus bloomed on the mountain. A university humanitarian aid program was founded to send students wherever there is a crisis, bringing willing hands and hope to those devastated by hurricanes, fires, and floods. Students now routinely partner with faculty to fight human trafficking, innovate solutions to poverty, bring healing to the hurting, and effect lasting social change. Alumni carry on the work, empowered by an education that enriched more than just their minds — it nourished their souls.
Though sitting U.S. presidents speak at Commencement, and national leaders in business, entertainment, ministry, and government weekly address students from the Convocation stage or lecture in classes, the biggest VIPs at Liberty University will always be its students.
Today, Liberty trains pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, lawyers, pastors — professionals in almost every field who love God, serve others, and are the very best at what they are called to be. It trains Champions for Christ.
Because on the mountain stands a university, and God still isn’t finished.
“Nothing of eternal significance happens apart from prayer.”
– Rev. Jerry Falwell
3,000-seat tent used to hold the rapidly growing student body for Chapel in 1978
Aerial shot of campus in 2020 – including the Vines Center, where Convocation is now held each week