The university is challenging a recent change to the Virginia state budget, which prohibits online students from receiving a tuition assistance grant.
Liberty University has filed a lawsuit against Virginia, claiming its students have been wrongfully excluded from receiving state grants.
WSLS reports that Liberty lodged its complaint after reviewing Virginia’s 2020 operating budget.
The budget effectively prohibits students who are taking all-online curricula from receiving the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, which is currently available only to those who are taking at least one in-person course.
The lawsuit names as defendants Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, and Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education.
According to WSLS, Virginia has—since 1973—provided economic assistance to state residents seeking or pursuing higher education. Since the advent of the internet, the tuition assistance grant, or VTAG, has been available to all students, regardless of whether they were taking classes online or within a physical classroom.
But Liberty University says Virginia has now set different requirements, with its newest budget specifying that students cannot receive the VTAG if they are “in an online education or distance learning program.”
In a statement announcing the suit, Liberty blasted the development as a form of “unconstitutional discrimination.”
“For the past 20 years, online resources have proven an increasingly important tool that higher education institutions employ to educate students, and the VTAG program has played an important role in making higher education available to all Virginia students regardless of their circumstances,” Jerry Prevo, Liberty University’s acting president, said in a statement.. “Students often elect to enroll at Liberty and other academic institutions offering online courses for the flexibility and accessibility they need as non-traditional students who are working parents, parents providing child care, military members and veterans, first responders, and economically disadvantaged students. Online courses have also provided educational access for students whose health or medical issues make on-campus attendance impractical, as well as others who require flexibility in terms of where and when they access educational materials. The 2020 VTAG amendments harm all of these groups, and others.”
While the governor’s office has provided limited response, a spokesperson for Northam says that Virginia’s continued priority is ensuring its residents affordable access to education.
“Governor Northam has made it a top priority to expand access to affordable, high-quality education,” said spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky. “We don’t comment on pending litigation.”
Earlier this year, Yarmosky said Northam’s decision to cut distance-learning from the VTAG had more to do with costs than anything.
“Online programs, by their very nature, do not incur the same myriad of brick-and-mortar costs,” Yarmosky said.