Skip to content

Virginia’s Online Revolution Waits for No Man

Share this Story on Facebook, X, Text, LinkedIn, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Outlook

Lynchburg, Va., is home to the seventh largest university in the nation, we discover in reading the latest edition of Virginia Business magazine. Yes, it turns out that the little university founded by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell in 1971 is delivering a college education to 12,750 residential students and 82,000 online this year. (Wikipedia gives a 2010 enrollment of 56,625, but also ranks Liberty as No. 7 in the country.)
Liberty offers 130 online-only degrees in 50 academic programs. The average age of students is 35. Most are married, have mortgages, hold down jobs and are involved in their church, although the university also reaches out to military service members and their families.
“Moving families or quitting a job to return to school at a bricks-and-mortgage university is out of the question for many working people,” writes Richard Foster for Virginia Business. “So online courses are a more cost-effective option.” Full-time residential undergrads at Liberty pay $9,200 per semester, but full-time online enrollees pay less than $4,000.
The online education revolution waits for no man. While prestigious institutions like the University of Virginia engage in controversy and soul-searching over how to integrate online education, upstart institutions like Liberty are racking up market share. The 82,000 online enrollment at Liberty is up from only 12,670 in 2006. It may be decades, if ever, before the quality of Liberty’s four-year residential experience can match that of UVa, but Liberty is ramping up the learning curve of online teaching far more rapidly.
Meanwhile, other Virginia institutions are active in online education, according to Virginia Business. Herndon-based K12 Inc., delivers online courses to more than 100,000 public school students across the U.S. The for-profit firm, founded in 2000, now generates $700 million in revenues, employs 3,000 full-time and part-time workers and is growing at a rate of 30% per year. The per-child cost of virtual education is about 60% of bricks-and-mortar schooling. School systems can tap K12′s class catalog to offer advanced placement courses or specialty courses, like Chinese language, to small groups of high-performing students.
Another Northern Virginia institution, Strayer University, is also an online leader. About half of the university’s 50,000-student population consists of online learners. Instead of running “synchronous” classes, in which teacher and students all meet at the same time, Strayer favors “asynchronous” classes that allow busy adults to take as their schedules allow. One of the university’s more noteworthy programs is the eMBA program offered through the Jack Welch Management Institute, featuring lectures and occasional live appearances by the former GE CEO.
Snooty elitists will sneer at the quality of education offered online. And, to some extent, they’ll be right. There are real limitations to the level of teacher-student interaction that can take place online — just as there are in introductory courses with 300 students and one professor offered at a traditional university. But the technology is continually improving, and the Liberties, Strayers and K12s are constantly experimenting, innovating and learning what works. The quality of the educational experience will get better — at half the cost. Long-term, many traditional colleges and universities are toast.

Email this author

Share this Story on Facebook, X, Text, LinkedIn, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Outlook

Join Our Email List

Sign me up for:
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.