Not all of higher education is in financial trouble

In the almost six years since Falwell’s death, Liberty University has doubled its student head count — twice.

Total enrollment now exceeds 74,000, with nearly 62,000 working toward degrees online in fields such as psychology, business, education, criminal justice and, of course, religion. That makes Liberty the largest university in Virginia — with more than double the number of students at No. 2 George Mason — and the largest private, nonprofit university in the country. With a slogan of “training champions for Christ,” Liberty also is the nation’s largest university with a religious affiliation.

Liberty figured out how to recruit masses of students via the Internet years before elite universities began ballyhooed experiments with free online courses.

…Liberty’s expansion has yielded a river of money. The university ended 2012 with more than $1 billion in net assets for the first time, counting cash, property, investments and other holdings. That is 10 times what the school had in 2006, putting Liberty in the same financial league as universities such as Pepperdine, Georgetown and Tulane.

Flush with cash, Liberty is building a huge, $50 million library, replacing old dormitories and angling to place its Flames football team in a conference eligible for NCAA bowl games.

That is by Nick Anderson, here is more.


"Training champions for Christ"
Looks like the crusades are back, and Liberty University is where you sign up for basic training.

Yes. That slogan hardly inspires one to think that LU is a place of open intellectual inquiry.

Note also that:

Tinsley said Liberty uses “biblical integration” as it teaches science.

“We want to relate all of our subjects back to Scripture, theology and a biblical worldview,” he said.

Open intellectual inquiry isn't really practiced anywhere.

Exactly. I know a University of Utah student (you hardly think of "The U" as a liberal bastion) that tells me some unbelievable things that go on there. Classes like 'gender studies' teach things like "there are no differences between men and women - it is all cultural".

So I guess you have to pick your poison.

Well, I alwasy expect a certain amount of bullshit in social sciences (very much including law and economics)...

BUT, there is a world of difference here, re: open intellectual inquiry in natural sciences. That is usally pretty well done elsewhere.

I understand your point but someone else asked the crucial question here: how do you think this kind of religious bias actually impacts the teaching of natural sciences? I think that at the end of the day the core science is still there in the exact same way and the religious overtone is really just a feel good kind of thing. We have several highly successful scientists like Francis Collins who are religious and that doesn't seem to interfere at all.

I am not saying you cannot be religious as well as scientific.

I AM saying that there is a certain (rather big) part of the religious right in the USA that elevates their religious beliefs ABOVE the scientific method in a way that can not be reconciled with the process of doing science. And it is something that doesn't happen in the same way (or only in an minor degree) elsewhere.

I understand. What I am saying is that the this certain part of the religious right is not that large and its size is overplayed by the media. I live in a place where there is a lot of religious people (2nd highest in the country) and the very large majority is very well educated and proficient in science, even when it goes against strict religious teachings.

Well, good to hear. ;)

But are you sure that's not some sort of selection bias? I've seen some disheartening polls about pretty basic science.

There is certainly selection bias but we were talking about a small percentage of the population anyway (i.e., people who attend college).

You think the humanties are bad: try mathmatical physics and quantum theory: "Listen up kids: an object can be in two places at the same time!".

What does the expression of an idea you find absurd have to do with whether or not there is open intellectual inquiry at the Univeristy of Utah?

It seems to be practiced at St. John's College, Annapolis.

Are there differences of degree, do you think?

If colleges are on average more of a party place, then the value of a signaled ability to not only motivate oneself to occasionally study for three years, but also not swear during those three, appreciates...

Elite universities don't want to increase their headcount. It dilutes the brand. Those "ballyhooed experiments" with on line courses are clever ways for places like Harvard or Princeton to increase name recognition and influence while reducing pressure for true increased access.

Interesting point.

Yes, obviously Harvard is trying to increase its name recognition.

This comment would come off less gadfly-ish if it appeared under Peter's comment instead of mine. All I said was that I thought his point was interesting.

Because Coca-Cola never spends money on advertising to build its brand name recognition either

From what I saw in Engineering at a Big10 University, if you expanded the intake any more the quality of your output is going to suffer a lot.

Already, the bottom third of graduating engineers are quite bad. Unless the "assembly line" is given some serious revamping; and I don't even know how.

And to think this information was posted months ago in this very comments section.

Apart from the financials, of course - the only thing better than being taxpayer funder is being tax exempt. And having a donor base that is more than uninterested in actually having an institution which meets generally accepted standards of scientific rigor.

Public colleges are both taxpayer-funded and tax exempt, and they have their scientific blind spots too. I'm not a fan of evangelical protestantism--I'm actually among its enemies--but the ideas germinated in the 'mainstream' academies are at least as destructive.

We may be missing a much bigger issue suggested by this phenomenon: Christian vs. non-Christian fertility rates.

"the ideas germinated in the ‘mainstream’ academies are at least as destructive"

The biology department of Liberty University teaches new earth creationism. Your assertion is absolutely ridiculous.

Yes, and the average mainstream history department teaches Marxism. What's the difference?

Marxist historians are celebrated by their colleagues and peers, and host and attend conferences, across the Western world. LU's "biology" dept. is a weird offshoot of theology and probably their biologists' lab work involves nothing that mainstream proper biologists would recognize.

False equivalence.

Marxism actually happened, so it's a legitimate area of history. Just like Nazi fascism, or any other political ideology that influenced historical events.

New earth creationism has absolutely nothing to do with biology. Or with any branch of science.

Don't be dense, CG. We all know that history departments teach Marxist theory, not merely an account of Marxism as a historical event. The fact that I have to spell this out to simply make my point is disappointing.

If you cannot see the difference, you should probably be more careful in how you throw around that insult.

And no, history departments do not teach Marxism to indoctrinate their students. This is purely right wing paranoia, and has no basis in reality.

God forbid that a history department teach crazy ideas like economic relationships having a large influence on historical change. Wouldn't want people to get any silly ideas like that.

RPLong, that's... fracking insane. Do you get all your news from WorldNetDaily?

I don't even know what you're complaining about when you deride "Marxist history." Do you even know what you mean? If you're complaining that Eric Hobsbawm might be read, well, sure. He's one of the pre-eminent historians of the modern era. That said, more likely than not the typical history undergraduate isn't even going to read him.

Which leaves us with the question: what the hell are you talking about?

The key word is destructive. It seems to me if what you say is true, the biology department at Liberty is dumb and pointless for those who participate, which hardly marks this out as very unusual in today's university landscape, but how does this dumb and pointless activity bleed out into the wider society?

Can you help me understand one concrete example of how the propagation of this particular university department negatively impacts you or your life?

And how much difference does it make to the study of biology if you believed that the earh was 6,000 years old or billions of years old? Both are stories about the past, but each is describing the same present. If I argue that an organism is the result of evolution operating over billions of years and you argue that all living beings were created by God a few thousand years ago, the current organism and its characteristis are the same.

Then why bother with any history? Also if you have spores of fungus that by some other methods you think might 50 or 60 thousand years old, and were studying the differences it would affect how fast you think it might mutate in the future.

Only if you see characteristics as purely physical properties and ignore all process, interaction, and function.

Evolutionary biology is a major part of biology, and ignoring it makes nearly all of the university's biological training suspect.

I wonder if there is a benefit from being an online v. offline student at Liberty U:

"On campus, students are prohibited from drinking alcohol or having premarital sex. They also are barred from watching R-rated movies, with exceptions sometimes granted upon request."

Party on!


Actually, the questions I have are: how many of the students are drawn to the school because of incorporation of religion into its curriculum, how much of its growth comes from the absences of alternatives (few online courses from degree granting institutions, which is changing, so will the good drive out the mediocre), what is the composition of degrees by subject (how many are religion and counseling degrees); what constititues a student (if I take just one course, does that count, and does that include the free classes on ITunes U); what are the placement results.

Also, do credits transfer.

Also, do they admit atheists, gays or Muslims, or any combination thereof, and do they admit sinners. What is their course in evolutionary biology like? If you are single, do you have to be a virgin. What if you change your mind.

They admit sinners, at the very least. One of the major points of the New Testament is that everyone is a sinner, and evangelicals readily attest they are no different.

If it's anything like BYU, then they would admit everyone who agrees to adhere to an honor code.

For being such an exemplar of online education prowess it is ironic that they'd spend $50 million on a dorm and brick-n-mortar library.

How many of their 62,000 online students will use those?

+1 - my thoughts exactly.

It is akin to Mecca? I.e., a physical destination that believers must make the pilgrimage to?

"it is ironic that they’d spend $50 million on a dorm and brick-n-mortar library"
This is required to get accretion.

The price of regulation and accreditation.

The most important question is whether their Econ department is better than GMUs! :-)

I've downloaded some of their iTunes U podcasts. I found the difficulty level remedial; high school level at best.

Is this the death of higher Ed?

My memory is a bit foggy, as this took place in the summer of 2006, but I was down there on some sort of summer leadership program that the American Legion sponsored (figured it couldn't hurt for college resumes).

I remember wandering through their math department to find a poster on a wall with a picture of a honeycomb, and a caption stating something along the lines of "Nature produces consistent and logical patterns because of a reasonable and caring God".

I also remember the late Jerry Falwell giving a speech at the opening of the program, and at the end of the speech, letting us know that if any of us wanted to attend Liberty, just to send me a letter indicating it and he'd let us in, since he ran the place.

"I also remember the late Jerry Falwell giving a speech"....

And yet, you still won't believe...

I get the impression that many want to predict or prejudge the failure of online education. Only time will tell. The jury is still out on many forms of offline education.

+1. right, people is telling who's going to win, online or traditional ed. let's wait a few years.

There are several modes of failure.

Obviously, it doesn't fail as a business.
It can still very much fial in the education it claims to provide (and IS failing, in the case of Lib U).

Win for the investors, fail for the students...

You could say the same for public K-12 - win for the teachers, fail for the students.

I would indeed, as far as you mean public K-12 in (most) of the USA.

I wouldn't in all parts of the world, mind you, there are pretty good public education systems out there.

This awful US education system sure seems to be drawing a lot of people from all over the world to consume it at all levels.

Come to think of it, it's telling that 1.5 million people a year vote with their feet for a country with such a market-dominant Protestant culture. I meet a lot of Hispanic (and other) evangelicals, and of course there are the observant Hindus and Muslims. Buddhism is an awfully staid faith as well--SWPLs with 'Free Tibet' stickers tend to ignore that part.

The future may not pan out the way the high-g atheists/libertarians intended.

Well, the US public education system is still better than most of the world's...

But you wouldn't even dream of coming to the US for its education system from some countries (Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, Austria).

A degree in "religious studies" is probably the right-wing equivalent of "gender studies" or "African studies" but perhaps slightly less useless in terms of employment.

Academically they seem to be on par with some of the lesser state schools. I suspect a large part of their attraction is that like Fox News they've identified a niche market, mostly ignored by their industry, composed of half the country.

(They do teach evolution, for those who didn't read the article.)

Some other interesting departments that I remember: Asian American Studies, "Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies" (yes, that's their official name!), Gender and Women's Studies, Semitic Studies, Jewish Studies (those last two were separate programs).

Program creep is a serious University disease.....

Princeton has a department dedicated to studying "Program Creep".

During my study abroad at King's College London 12 years ago I took classes from the Department of War Studies. It was their version of political science, although about half my local classmates were going to Sandhurst after they finished at KCL.

War Studies sounds way more useful than all those. Not the same league at all.

I'd throw Harvard Economics in there as well.

Oh really? On what basis?

I'm sure the school is doing very well financially. It's the students you have to worry about. Tuition at this dung heap of a school is $27K. And nothing its students do will get rid of that shit stain on their resumes. The advantage of attracting retards is that you can get away with robbing them while offering no real possibility of career advancement and make them think they're better off b/c of it.

It’s the students you have to worry about.

That's an argument being increasingly made about students in most colleges across the US, not just schools like Liberty.

offering no real possibility of career advancement

I'm not familiar with Liberty U. - I'd be interested in seeing some kind of reliable source showing that Liberty U. grads get jobs at a higher or lower rate than grads of similarly sized and priced schools. (Sorry, but mere use of insulting language isn't enough to make the case.)

I agree that it's not a problem confined to Liberty. But Liberty is a particularly good example, especially given its batshit insane curriculum. Say what you want about left wing propaganda in academia, at least a lot of these supposedly "leftist" institutions in the Ivy Leagues get their students jobs. There's a reason why there are no prestigious "conservative" institutions.

a lot of these supposedly “leftist” institutions in the Ivy Leagues get their students jobs.

But Liberty U. isn't (and doesn't appear to hold itself out as) an Ivy League school. So, is there a source of information that compares how Liberty U. grads do employment-wise compared to grads of similar schools?

If you want to compare VA schools to Ivy League, then it would be fair to use W&L, W&M, and UVA.

But not Liberty, Radford, Christendom, ODU, VCU, Marymount, Lynchburg, Regent, etc.

a reason why there are no prestigious “conservative” institutions.
I'm not sure what "prestigious" means. As ranked by USNews? Forbes? Kiplinger? Loren Pope? ISI?

After reading Daniel Golden's "The Price of Admission," prestige seems to be about endowment, celebrity and money. I could be wrong.

There’s a reason why there are no prestigious “conservative” institutions.

Intolerance of dissent?

The university of Chicago's economics department is prestigious and quite conservative.

I've worked with a handful of LU graduates. They were the same skill level as the graduates of other non-elite schools.

In what field?

I think liberty has terrible science education, but I could see how a faith based education could make you better at sales.

I think Talldave has the right of it. Universities like this (and Bob Jones, PCC, etc.) may not be great educational organizations, but they stand as a testament to how hostile standard education is to the religious and the conservative-minded. I know that when I was looking at colleges, my (very religious) parents offered to cover half my tuition, but only if I attended a christian college. I was on full ride for academics, thanks largely to their first-class home-schooling, and I was a burgeoning little atheist, so I went public. But I must say, as a libertarian atheist, I find myself in more arguments defending people I don't agree with in public academia. The environment is toxic for anything not boilerplate liberal, and downright vicious for the conservative and religious. I'm not surprised that the few institutions that cater to that segment do well, they have no competition.

Your post in a way demonstrates why these universities are not great educational organizations. Your excellent-schooling, in a way, groomed you away from them?

Texas A&M is a public school and is notoriously conservative.

Not quite. The students and engineering, and science programs are conservative (except biology). Most of the departments are not.

"The environment is toxic for anything not boilerplate liberal, and downright vicious for the conservative and religious."

Haven't been to many universities in the South, have you? Or business schools?

One doesn't need to go to what one would stereotypically associate with conservatism or religion. Just walk down the main walk of, say, UCLA, and you will see numerous religious organizations out tabling. The campus is surrounded by a number of churches and religious centers catering to students.

In my experience, most students care more about how the sports team is doing than anything political. There's nothing particularly difficult about being conservative or religious at most college campuses, unless you're a thin-skinned baby with a victim complex.

" There’s nothing particularly difficult about being conservative or religious at most college campuses, unless you’re a thin-skinned baby with a victim complex."

I suspect that's exactly the kind of attitude he is referring to.

And responding to that jibe as if it was seriously impactful just proves the point.

No doubt there are people who say the same thing about gays in conservative churches.

Yeah, I went to school in the south and I only took classes from two Marxist professors! I wouldn't be surprised if 20% of the professors voted for Republicans.

Sad throughout. They will probably succeed in their endeavor to fill the public school biology facutlties with teachers who don't believe in evolution. Then they can move on to astronomy teachers who don't believe in the copernican system and chemistry teachers who believe in phlogiston.

The left doesn't like science any better when it brushes up against their taboos.

Really, give me some examples.

Larry Summers?


Not to mention a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is, leading to silly overreach when applied to complex systems, e.g. social 'science', climate 'science', nutrition 'science'.

You may be correct re: social science.

You are incorrect re: climate science. This is a proper field of science (substract a few barking goofballs that you find in every field), that is properly done by most of the scientists in the field. You may not like the results of the current climate models (which are falsifiable and are regularly tested empirically and improved upon), but there is no major distinction between climate science and other fields of natural science regarding it's trustworthiness (scientific methods and procedures in a field where they are applicable).

You are mostly incorrect re: nutrition science, which CAN be done properly/scientifically. Admittedly, it rarely is, because financial interests kind of interfere - it is rather related to the field of drug studies in how it fails to be properly studied.

nope. climate science produces results with levels of uncertainty on a par with 5-year GDP growth estimates.

Science is a method of falsification. In some fields (physics, chemistry, biology), the method is spectacularly successful at weeding out false ideas and groping toward truth. In other fields of human inquiry, characterized by large numbers of variables and complex interactions that are difficult or impossible to replicate under laboratory conditions, it is much less successful.

The methods have uses, and I expect climate science will improve, but it's got a way to go.

Obviously, climate science is burdened with more uncertainty then physics/chemistry. Mind you, that is only most of the time. I can very easily find parts of climate science that are more precise and falsifiable than some parts of (accapted and very much well studied) fields of chemistry or physics (Hurricane prediction is nicely falsifiable and getting more precise all the time).

It doesn't change the fact that you only have to adjust to that uncertainty. You have models that make predictions. You set boundaries for the expected random deviation. You only accept your models as "true" when they go beyond a certain accuracy - though, you will not wait for 5-sigma like particle physicists do (but then, no other natural science is quite as rigorous).

Mostly this means you have bands of predictive power (upper and lower bounds, that you can exclude with high amount of probability). This has been done. Those models are constantly tested versus real world data and the bounds (re-)established - mostly confined with more data points and computing power. This may not be the equivalent to special relativity (which doesn't yield probability bands via a computer model, but very specific predictions), but it IS the equivalent of other similiar science, like fluid dynamics in physics (which is related anyway) or molecular dynamics in chemistry.

The amount of uncertainty of global climate models at this point is significantly less than 5-year GDP growth estimates. You do climate scientists a disservice by lumping them in with us economists. They have a field much more conducive to the scientific method.

GMOs fear is a really great example. I would that to that list all the wishful thinking around renewable energies. Also, the "eat local" discourse.

A much more profound example (and one where I as a liberal/progressive could howl in frustration) are the anti-vaccers.


The anti-vaxxers seem to pick from both the extreme left and the extreme right.

The anti-GMO crowd, though, is definitely over-represented on the left.

Except GMO skepticism is widespread across the population.

"There's also a political difference. Republicans divide evenly on whether genetically modified foods are safe or unsafe. Independents rate them unsafe by a 20-point margin; Democrats, by a 26-point margin."

So that would be:

Repubs: 50/50
Indeps: 60/40
Dems: 63/37

One wonders what would happen if one controlled for education, given the demographic differences between reps and dems. GMO skepticism may just be mostly a position of the dumb.

Anti-scientific views on the left have already come up in this blog.

Schiller at Yale.

Economics is not a science.

The left's opposition to testing animals

Is that a true statement, or just a belief?

It's true for about 50-60% of Democrats, at least according to Gallup. Not uniform (for there's generally far more intra-party variation when it comes to social issues), but certainly not an insubstantial number of people on the left.

Opposition to animal testing is a perfectly salient ethical belief. It's no more pro or anti science than opposition to particular types of research on human subjects. Of course, one can hold the position for reasons that either are or aren't consistent with scientific fact.

Opposition to using embryonic stem cells is also "a perfectly salient ethical belief" and yet the left always calls that anti-science.

GM agriculture.

William, Actually, no evidence. Here is a Deloitte survey on GMO. You would have to say that 77% of the population was left...well, maybe it is in your mind:

In my experience, most of the left refuses to believe that there is any significant genetic influence on human behavior. Humans are tabula rasa. Bones evolve but brains don't.

No, I bellieve that a persons political belief may be significantly influenced by their genetics and their lack of capacity to reason. I've seen the proof on this site.

Kidding aside: the opposite may be true for others: the belief that one cannot overcome "genetic influences", that there is predestination, and that all attempts to do so are futile.

In my experience you are wrong. Completely.

Some of the stuff they get away with teaching in physics is indistiguishable from religion: Quantum mechanics, string theory etc. "It's both '0' and '1' at the same time kids, *gasp!"

Re: social sciences, it is debatble (you certainly have a point to some degree).

Re: natural sciences... no. The religous right is most certainly not the equal to the left in terms of intellectual honesty when dealing with the pursuit of the laws of nature as current science is trying to do.

The Left has plenty of fairy tales:

--race is a social construct
--human evolution ended at the neck 40,000 years ago, having endowed all population groups with the same tabula rasa
--it follows, all children are equally educable
--gender is a social construct (this requires acceptance of a mind-body divide that is nothing short of transcendental)
--AIDS has nothing, zero, zilch to do with loads on the immune system from unhygienic activity; it's all HIV and anybody can get it (unlike superbugs, what nonsense, we have it under control...)
--diffuse energy sources are as efficient as concentrated ones
--global warming is THE problem, so we need more people in the US and Europe living in more and bigger cities

Not saying these issues are settled one way or the other; just that the Left has plenty of its own areas where they'd prefer (even mandate) that no further inquiry take place.

Where did you pull out that "unhygienic activity" bit from? That caught my eye. At least it's a novel crank.

Rahul - If you avoid drug use, don't shit in your water supply, and don't engage in highly promiscuous sex, you are virtually guaranteed not to get AIDS. Blood transfusions put a huge load on systems as well. The HIV/AIDS hypothesis needs critical thinking, considering it is basically non-existent outside these behaviors.

Rahul, it goes back a ways:

This post really says much more about your own ignorance than anything else.

Fracking. GMOs. "Climate change".

Evidence or belief for your claims, Rich

1. "Fracking: Fracking Divides GOP Party
BY: The Associated Press | Ohio | March 6, 2012

When it comes to the controversial gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, the Republican Party itself appears fractured — especially in the critical swing state of Ohio.

Super Tuesday voters are choosing among a field of GOP contenders who all support less regulation of the drilling technique, even as some Republicans in the state call for greater oversight and new taxes on companies using it to harvest natural gas."

2. GMOs--see sources in comments above disputing that claim, including Deloitte survey.

3. Climate change: Got me there.

Sorry Bill, not taking the bait. Find another patsy.

There is no equivalence between believing a scientific, falsifiable explanation for observed phenomena and believing a religious, non-falsifiable explanation for observed phenomena, even if both explanations are wrong. Everybody does the former at some point, but the latter is a different kind of wrong.

And climate change is real.

Wow, I had no idea Liberty U was on such a roll. I am impressed.

~19,000 on campus and 80,000 online means that they're the biggest school in Virginia? How many of those online students are even in Virginia?

I think that they need to start measuring these online universities in a totally different way. The University of Phoenix has ~380,000 enrolled, but does that make them the largest university in Arizona when the individuals attending the University of Phoenix are all over the country and perhaps all over the world? In terms of online attendance, state borders of the administrative offices are pretty bizarre ways to measure when the student population is all over the map.

Is this a post about signaling, mood affiliation, markets in everything or stagnation?

Is this a post about signaling, mood affiliation, markets in everything or stagnation?

Don't forget beautiful women.

....and great restaurants at Liberty U.

"...The best ones have no english signs or menus: and cater to foreign exchange students"

I hire STEM graduates from time to time. Graduation from Liberty U would see the application deleted immediately.

The company I work for hires online degree employees. However, these employees are almost always temps without any real chance of promotion. It's really sad they spent all this money on a degree that isn't helping them.

In a casual conversation with an SVP at my corporation, he told me that a BA in a stem field from a medicore state university (in my case FSU) gets far more attention than an MBA from an online University from human resources.

Markets will tend to punish irrational discrimination.

And reward rational discrimination.

The available evidence suggests deleting all Liberty resumes is irrational.

If I had my life to live over again, if I couldn't get into an ivy league school, I would start at the local community college. The Ivy's have some brand value, and I am sure a few others, but I am not sure where to draw the line. On the other hand, the value of being education at any one particular school is so difficult to measure it would seem to make sense to try and minimize costs.

Now, in hindsight, I did go the community college for two years, and I have no regrets.

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