A subcommittee of the Virginia Tobacco Commission yesterday recommended giving $12 million to Liberty University to help it launch a medical school. Here’s the story from my colleagues Mason Adams and Sarah Bruyn Jones.
But the recommendation, which will be voted on by the full commission Sept. 29, raises this question: why does the proudly “private” evangelical university need any state money at all for this? It’s already flush with taxpayer cash as a result of the “online university” it runs.
Last year, Liberty took in federal grants and proceeds from taxpayer-guaranteed student loans that totaled $445 million. (Just five years ago, its total annual revenues were about $150 million.) Most of that new money comes came from its online operation, modeled after certain other dubious for-profit “online universities” such as the University of Phoenix, Strayer and Ashford universities. Update: Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. disputes these numbers, as detailed here.
Liberty has built a snowless ski slope on Candler Mountain (which it rechristened “Liberty Mountain”) and it’s gobbling up commercial and industrial property in Lynchburg. It’s the biggest business in that city, and it receives more federal money than any educational institution in the commonwealth.
Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. was kind of bragging about how big Liberty has gotten and how flush its finances are as recently as Wednesday, as he introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a big crowd at the university.
In his introductory remarks (watch the video), Falwell said that Liberty is now the “biggest university in Virginia, and the 8th largest of all colleges in the United States, and the world’s largest Christian university.” That’s ALL because the startling growth of its online university.
Falwell also bragged that Liberty recently earned an AA credit rating from Standard & Poors, and that it’s one of only 78 universities in the nation with that rating or higher.
“S&P gave Liberty a positive outlook but they gave President Obama and the United States a negative outlook, so we’re proud of that,” Falwell added.
Make what you want to out of that dig. What Falwell neglected to mention is that the vast majority of the university’s revenue came from taxpayers, or is guaranteed by taxpayers. It kind of runs against the concept of a “private” university.
So Liberty has plenty of money to create that med school. They don’t need the Tobacco Commission money. (They had asked for $18 million).
That money should go to help the small businesses that it’s supposed to, rather than “private” universities that already are gobbling taxpayer money like a body-builder swallows steroids.