When an Army veteran was looking for somewhere to get an online aviation degree a couple of years ago in hopes of becoming a pilot, Liberty University advertised having the speed and flexibility she needed: accelerated eight-week courses with start times throughout the year and 52 affiliated flight schools around the country where she could get the required flight training. She signed up for the program, paying with the GI Bill benefits that have made military veterans such a reliable source of revenue for Liberty and other universities with large online programs.
But when her husband, who was still on active duty, learned he would be transferred from Georgia to Hawaii, she discovered that the lone Liberty flight affiliate on Oahu, George’s Aviation Services in Honolulu, did not offer the accelerated courses Liberty had touted. This meant that it would take her double the time to complete her program, two years rather than one, and would cost U.S. taxpayers more along the way, she stated in a complaint she filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“There was not one time where it was clearly stated that some flight affiliates do not accept students in the accelerated program,” she wrote in her complaint. “I would not have enrolled knowing that I didn’t have the option at every flight affiliate and now I am stuck with having very few courses remaining and an inability to continue in the program.”
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.
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SOURCE: ProPublica, Alec MacGillis