With nearly 12,000 residential students and more than 45,000 online students, Liberty University has moved well past the mark of 50,000 that its late founder had envisioned nearly 25 years ago.
"Dad originally had a goal of 5,000 students," LU Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr., said in recalling the vision of his father, the late Jerry Falwell.
"Elmer Towns (Liberty co-founder and dean of the School of Religion) has often told the story about how that vision changed almost overnight when my father suddenly declared that Liberty would one day enroll 50,000 students," he added, according to the school's marketing department.
Falwell Jr. noted, however, that his father had revised his vision slightly due to technological advances in education delivery methods.
Originally, in October 1985, Falwell said he was praying for the day after the turn of the century when Liberty would have 50,000 students on its then-44,000-acre campus.
"We want to train 50,000 a year," he declared.
With the development and rise of the internet, Falwell's vision later became to enroll 25,000 online students and 25,000 residential students.
Today, a total of 57,371 students are enrolled at Liberty University – nearly 20,000 of which came in less than two years.
"Over the last few years, we have seen online delivery methods become even more popular," Falwell Jr. commented.
The milestone achievement comes just one year ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Lynchburg, Va., school's founding.
It was in 1971 that Falwell and Towns founded Liberty as Lynchburg Baptist College, starting with 154 students. Classes were held in the Sunday school classrooms of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church Falwell and 34 others had founded 15 years prior.
With enrollment now reaching toward 60,000, Liberty touts itself as the world's largest Christian university as well as the largest private non-profit school in the United States, the eighth largest school among private institutions, and among the top 25 largest degree-granting schools in the country.
"We've been blessed here with so much, and we're excited about what the future holds," Falwell Jr. concluded.
Falwell Sr. died on May 15, 2007, at the age of 73.
In addition to Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, Falwell also founded Lynchburg Christian Academy (now Liberty Christian Academy) and cofounded the Moral Majority in 1979.