Statement by Freedom From Religion Foundation
One of the nation's most prominent educational theocrats will reportedly be in charge of regulating himself.
Jerry Falwell Jr. is expected to head a new task force to deregulate higher education — in ways that will harm students and taxpayers but line his own pockets. A White House spokesperson told the Chronicle of Higher Education Sunday that Falwell's appointment, first mentioned in January, is imminent.
What's at stake?
As the Freedom From Religion Foundation warned earlier this year, Liberty University, which Falwell's father founded to inspire students to "go out in all walks of life to impact this world for God," has one of the largest online enrollments in the nation. Liberty University's in-campus enrollment is about 14,000 evangelical Christian students. But it enrolls 65,000 online students. That means it's one of the largest beneficiaries of federal undergraduate grant and loan programs, rivaling predatory for-profit colleges. Online enrollment brought in $591 million to the Christian university in 2013 — much of it in the form of tuition paid via federal financial aid.
So, Liberty University, as The New York Times characterized it, "is essentially a medium-size nonprofit college that owns a huge for-profit college." (The one catch is that it doesn't pay taxes.) Its $1 billion cash reserve "was underwritten largely by the federal taxpayer," as the Times points out. Falwell can hence thank federal taxpayers for his obscenely large salary of $900,000 a year as president of a "nonprofit" university.
Falwell has already announced his intentions of rolling back reforms reining in predatory colleges adopted by the Obama administration. Among his objectives, he:
- Opposes stronger standards for accrediting organizations that grant colleges access to federal financial aid.
- Opposes regulations to help students who've been cheated by fraudulent colleges, such as forgiving loans for students left holding worthless diplomas.
At least 9 percent of Liberty University students default within three years of graduation (higher than the national average of 6.5 percent). By age 25, more than 40 percent of former Liberty students are earning less than $25,000 per year, an income more typical of a high school grad than a college grad. Much of the purpose of the institution seems to be to enrich Falwell rather than provide quality education. Falwell's new perch will enable him to further that goal.
A plutocracy is a small group of the wealthiest citizens ruling or controlling a society. We are seeing the beginning of a theo-plutocracy.