Online Christian universities are growing fast. In fact, two schools—Liberty University and Grand Canyon University—are among the 10 largest universities in online-only enrollment.
But before you take a leap of faith online—or turn up your nose at the very idea of an online degree from a faith-based college—you need to understand that there are two very different types of online Christian universities and colleges. Our team of researchers break down these two types and help you determine the right one for you.
Types of Online Christian Universities
Where Faith is in Every Online Course
A few online Christian universities integrate their religious perspective and doctrines into every aspect of their teaching and online coursework. Liberty University is an example.
Liberty University has one of the largest enrollments among online colleges with 100,000 students.
Founded in 1971 as a fundamentalist Baptist university by Jerry Falwell, Liberty Online describes itself as “consistently teaching from a Christian worldview.” Everyone who teaches at Liberty University is a Christian. The Bible is used as a reference throughout every course at Liberty, including classes like statistics. Online students pray for each other and socialize through Bible study.
An intensely Christ-centered education was just the sort of education Michelle Echterling wanted. The daughter of a non-denominational Christian pastor, Echterling was homeschooled while her family traveled the world evangelizing. She wanted to attend college while still traveling as a missionary who worked with orphanages around the world.
Echterling decided to enter an online bachelor’s degree program from Regent University. Regent was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson to provide, in the words of its mission statement, "Christian leadership to change the world."
At Regent, Christian beliefs are part of every aspect of residential and online education. Regent University is just right for Echterling—she loves that she can take classes like “Contemporary Problems for Christian Leaders” without cutting back on her travels.
Echterling is the perfect online student for a faith-based Christian school like Regent or Liberty.
When Online Christian Universities are Not Religious Schools
In the other camp are online schools founded and operated by nonprofit, religious organizations that don’t teach a specific religion. Many Catholic universities with online degree programs fall in this category.
Duquesne University is one such university. Founded in 1878 as a residential Catholic university, Duquesne is still a Catholic school, but classes don’t promote any specific religion or beliefs.
Duquesne professors reflect a diversity of religions and backgrounds. They do not teach a specific spiritual perspective. Nor do they use the Bible in class as an information source.
Like many Catholic schools, Duquesne courses require service projects that allow students to apply what they’ve learned to helping others. Catholicism is a strong influence at Duquesne; it’s just not integrated into online course content the way Christianity is at Liberty.
In fact, students who post reviews of Catholic and Jesuit online universities on GetEducated.com typically make no reference to religion as a deciding factor in their enrollment. Instead, they often mention overall educational reputation as a prime deciding factor.
The quality of education offered by one private Catholic college, Saint Leo University of Florida, was the deciding factor for Penny, one of GetEducated’s online student reviewers. Penny didn't think about religion or its overall role in her life or education plan when she decided to attend Saint Leo, a Catholic college that operates many online degree programs in business and healthcare.
Penny first tried the University of Phoenix Online, one of America’s largests online schools. “My first experience was with University of Phoenix and they were not for me,” writes Penny in her GetEducated.com review of Saint Leo's online bachelor's in business administration and management.
“I switched to Saint Leo in 2007. They were awesome! I had the same college guide throughout and my counselor was helpful and encouraging. There were no group projects, you earned your grade on your own merit. Most classes had some type of research paper involved and the homework encouraged students to delve deeper into each subject. Two thumbs up to this college for their very organized distance learning curriculum!”
Christian Distance Learning: Right for You?
Aside from wanting a religious education, why else might you consider online Christian universities and colleges?
For one thing, many Catholic universities have earned reputations as prestigious private colleges, with equally prestigious online degree programs.
Regis University of Colorado, Duquesne University and Saint Joseph’s College of Maine are examples of residential colleges founded by Catholic orders. These established residential universities are dedicated to intellectual enlightenment regardless of the personal religious affiliations of their students or faculty. One Get Educated student reviewer praised Regis University online, a Jesuit university, because “instructors were adamant about students using their varied backgrounds to help guide themselves to well thought-out conclusions.””
Questions of Cost for Online Christian Universities
Some religious schools are more affordable than their secular counterparts. Liberty University’s online MBA program, for example, made GetEducated.com’s Best Buy rankings of the most affordable distance MBAs.
The school earned a Best Buy ranking by offering online courses and degrees at a significantly lower cost than the hundreds of other competing online MBA programs.
One interesting item: Christian or faith-based online schools often match church donations to students’ educations. This can be a plus if your church is an important part of your everyday life.
Some online degree programs, including many operated by residential Catholic universities, cost two or three times more than their nonprofit, online school peers.
Private schools often have small endowments and limited tax-dollar support. They are often more dependent on tuition dollars to make ends meet. For this reason, they often must charge higher tuition rates to their students.
This fact is not true across the board. Get Educated’s rankings of the most affordable online degrees have placed East Coast Catholic universities, such as Duquesne University Online, as offering some of the most expensive online degree programs.
Regis University, on the other hand, has been ranked a Get Educated Best Buy for lower-than-average costs for its online master's degree programs in criminal justice, leadership, education, management and nursing.
How to Choose an Online College — Religious or Not
Ultimately, the decision comes down to faith. Just about any school that bills itself as Christian will say on paper that it welcomes all students. However, the reality is that not every student will be comfortable in a faith-based learning environment.
Bottom line, as one student wrote in her GetEducated.com review of Liberty University, “If you’re offended by Christianity, this is not the school for you.”
Also, remember there are many different types of Christianity. A university founded by the Methodist Church is likely to separate religion doctrine from all its educational course programs. On the other hand, an evangelical, born-again Christian school, such as Liberty, makes the Christian faith central to each and every course and online study session.
Some Christian schools operated by sects that have long histories in missionary and evangelical education—such as the Seventh Day Adventist Church—do require signed oaths of faith. They may even ask for a letter of recommendation from your pastor.
Look to see the type of faith practiced by any online school. Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, the Church of Christ Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh Day Adventists and Jesuits all operate online schools.
Each online school adheres to a different doctrine of Christianity. Make sure you agree with the specific doctrine being practiced if you are entering a faith-based online degree program.
When you’re considering a Christian online college, do the same research you would for any online degree program—and then do a little more.
3 Evaluation Tips for Christian Universities Online
- Review the mission statement of a Christian online degree program carefully. Does the public mission statement require faculty and students to sign an oath to practice one specific religion? If so, is that okay with you?
- Read the course descriptions for your distance degree program. If religion is integrated into the curriculum, you’ll see evidence. Is the Bible used as a course textbook, for example?
- Determine the role religion plays in online courses and the faculty belief systems.
8 Questions to Ask Online Christian or Catholic Schools
1. What percent of students belong to the religion with which the school is affiliated?
2. What percent of faculty belong to that religion?
3. Does the faculty have to sign a statement that swears allegiance to a particular faith?
4. Do students have to sign a statement that swears allegiance to that same faith?
5. How often is the Bible used as a source in online courses?
6. How would you characterize your school’s position on homosexuality, divorce and evolution/creation (or any issue that is morally important to you)?
7. Does the online school accept matching funds if my church donates to my education?
8. Do you offer any of the following online?
o Bible study groups
o Streamed chapel services
o Inspirational passages on your learning management system
o The ability to make online prayer requests
o Articles offering religious-based counsel
To Find Christian and Catholic schools
GetEducated’s college guide identifies which online schools are affiliated with Christian or Catholic orders — and which are not.
To find a faith-based online degree programs, use our Find Degrees tool.
First, select a subject (business & management) or a degree level (bachelor's).
Once you see the initial search results page, select the “Degree Characteristics” filter. (These filters appear on the left of your degree search results page.)
To see only Christian or Catholic degrees, just click either the “Christian” or “Catholic” filter (highlighted in yellow in the image below).
This type of search will return all the online degree programs in Get Educated’s master college guide offered from either Christian or Catholic schools.