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Virginia’s Liberty University: A mega-college and Republican presidential stage

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) left, meets with staff and coordinators on Sunday during a walk-through for his Monday morning speech, where he is expected to launch his campaign for president of the United States at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Why has Liberty University become a stage of choice in Republican presidential politics?

On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is expected to launch his bid for the White House from the university in Lynchburg, Va. Republican candidate Mitt Romney spoke about Judeo-Christian values at the campus during his 2012 campaign. In 2014, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), a possible 2016 contender, spoke at Liberty’s commencement.

One reason candidates are gravitating to the university is symbolism. It is perceived as a bastion of the Christian right. The evangelical Christian school was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who led an influential movement in the 1980s known as the Moral Majority.

[Virginia’s Liberty University transforms into evangelical mega-university.]

But another reason is that the school has become a national higher education phenomenon in recent years under the leadership of Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr. It now has about 81,000 students, the largest enrollment in the country of any private, non-profit university. Most are online students, but about 14,000 are residential.

The enrollment far exceeds the number of students Liberty had at the time of the elder Falwell’s death in 2007. The younger Falwell, president of Liberty, envisions the online and residential programs complementing each other. With a strong financial position, the school has gone on a building boom.