A Christian University Reaches Out to Spanish Speakers

Tom Cogill for The Chronicle

Orlando Lobaina is executive director of Liberty University en Español, which was founded to meet the needs of Hispanic pastors and lay leaders.
October 31, 2010

Hispanic church leaders and home-schooled children are among the likely beneficiaries of a new bilingual online program offered by Liberty University.

The private, Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., last month began offering bilingual programs that include an advanced certificate in biblical studies, an associate degree in religion, a master's degree in pastoral counseling, and a master's in Christian leadership.

The program, Liberty University en Español, is also offering courses from Grades 3 to 12. Enrollees might include immigrant families who are home-schooling their children and adults who dropped out of school and are working toward high-school-equivalency degrees.

The program is one of several higher-education projects supported by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an umbrella group of Hispanic evangelical churches and individuals.

Students must have some English skills, since some of the books and video materials will be in English.

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Liberty describes itself as the world's largest and fastest-growing Christian university, with more than 50,000 online students and 12,000 on-campus students. Orlando Lobaina, executive director for Liberty University en Español, says the program was founded to meet the needs of Hispanic pastors and lay leaders. The program, which includes the university's first Spanish-language classes, will give students who are learning English but aren't yet confident enough to take an online course a jump-start on their education, he says.

"Many people have high-school degrees from their home countries and want to better themselves and seek their dream jobs," he says. Many cannot afford to give up their jobs, "and feel more confident in a class where all of their interactions with their professors, their assignments, tests, and discussions are in Spanish." Liberty also provides tuition breaks to members of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Carmen Luisa Cruz is taking bilingual courses as part of a master's degree in divinity that she is pursuing online through Liberty. Ms. Cruz, who runs a public-relations business with her husband, has two children, ages 9 and 13, and had already been taking online classes from Liberty in English.

"This program has given me the flexibility and freedom to continue to be a mother, wife, and business owner and still pursue my calling," she says.

Unlike many of her classmates, Ms. Cruz, whose parents are immigrants, was born in the United States and is fluent in English. "Taking the course in Spanish keeps me rooted in both cultures," she says. "But one of my classmates in the English-language class was really struggling because of the language issue, and he's excited about switching to the bilingual program.

"It's already intimidating when you're my age and go back to school, much less electronically, and when you add the language barrier, it's that much harder."