The complaint was one of more than a dozen provided in response to a public records request about Liberty that was filed with the Veterans Affairs department’s GI Bill Feedback Tool and shared with ProPublica. In 2018, ProPublica published an investigation of the highly lucrative online operation at Liberty, the evangelical college in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. The investigation showed how under the leadership of Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., who took over after his father’s death in 2007, Liberty turned its online division into the financial engine of its burgeoning campus and political network, helping drive the university’s net assets from $150 million in 2007 to more than $2.5 billion in 2018.
The article revealed how much Liberty — the second-largest provider of online education after the University of Phoenix — relied on taxpayer funding for tuition revenue: Its students received more than $772 million in total aid from the Department of Education by 2017, plus more than $40 million from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Military veterans are such a big market for Liberty University Online that it has a whole division assigned to them.
And the article described a “steep drop-off in quality from the traditional college to the online courses” that was “openly acknowledged among Liberty faculty.” It showed how the university managed to keep its costs in delivering online courses exceedingly low by relying on low-paid instructors and course designers. This helped explain how Liberty, which is a nonprofit organization, managed to pocket $215 million of net income on nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2016, but it also helped explain why students were filing complaints with Virginia’s higher education oversight agency. It was a couple dozen such complaints, obtained via a public records request, that gave rise to the ProPublica investigation, revealing a much deeper iceberg of concerns about Liberty’s online operation. (In the 2018 article, Falwell Jr. described the university’s financial management as shrewd and defended the quality of its instruction.)
Throughout all the upheaval, though, complaints about online education have kept coming, as shown by the VA’s records, which were provided to Dahn Shaulis, a higher education blogger who filed a records request for complaints and then shared the agency’s response with ProPublica. Those records do not indicate whether the VA took any action in response to the complaints.
Read the full story at ProPublica here.