Catholic Distance University (CDU), an online institution based out of Hamilton, Va., is celebrating 30 years as a pioneer in the field of distance learning.
Founded in 1983 by Bishop Thomas Welsh, the first bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia, CDU has experienced dramatic expansion since it was founded, but has retained its commitment to strong Catholic identity.
“[W]e are 100% committed to fidelity to the Church,” CDU President Dr. Marianne Mount recently told The Cardinal Newman Society in an interview. “There's a wonderful dialogue … between faith and reason that is very appealing.”
After beginning with two staff members and only paper-based courses, the now online University enrolls students from all 50 states and 64 countries, according to its website.
With Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington currently serving as chairman of CDU’s board of trustees, the University reports that it is one of only five Catholic universities in the country with a bishop in this position.
“We’ve always has a very close relationship with the Diocese of Arlington, and having Bishop Loverde now as chairman is a great asset,” said Dr. Mount.
In addition, CDU has had a military bishop on its board since the mid-1980s to reflect the University’s strong commitment to members of the armed forces. The University also has partnerships with the Knights of Malta and various dioceses to provide low-cost catechetical training.
Students are attracted to CDU for a number of reasons, according to Dr. Mount, including its strong Catholic identity, academic rigor, and outstanding faculty. In addition, students choose CDU because it is “much more collaborative and reflects the research in distance education” than other online programs.
Boasting a “coffee with the President” forum, “cohort rooms” for students to discuss academic issues with each other, and even a “chapel” where prayer intentions can be posted—–all online—CDU is at the forefront of innovation in distance learning.
Fostering a sense of community is something that CDU takes “very seriously” and has “worked very hard at it,” according to Dr. Mount. “All of our classes have dialogue and interaction which is very important, and students are graded on the quality of their contributions.”
CDU has found its niche in online education, which is a benefit to students, according to Dr. Mount. She explains:
Because [distance learning] is all we do and all we've ever done for 30 years, we specialize in this, whereas a lot of traditional universities are primarily focused on classroom education. Online is not their primary focus. What they try to do is to imitate the classroom, whereas the online classroom is unique and it has its own strengths and weaknesses. It needs to be developed and used in away that enhances the benefits and minimizes the drawbacks.
The University offers a variety of degrees and certificates including a Master of Arts in theology, Bachelor of Arts in theology, Associate of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a concentration in Catholic Studies, and a Vatican-approved Catechetical diploma.
CDU has an agreement with two other Newman Guide-recommended institutions, Belmont Abbey College and Mount St. Mary’s University, for graduates of its A.A. program.
The University’s B.A. in theology is a flexible, low cost, high quality option for students—they can take their general coursework elsewhere and then complete their final 38 credits at CDU.
Taking classes “online serves the convenience of the learner rather than the institution,” Dr. Mount said. “In traditional institutions, the learner has to work at the convenience of the institution.”
CDU’s students range from doctors and lawyers who want to learn more about their faith, to homeschooling parents who want to be better formed to teach their children, to more traditional undergraduate students. Dr. Mount has heard many inspiring stories about the impact of a CDU education. She stated:
… [A]fter [students] graduate, they are tapped by their pastors or other Church leaders to take on responsibilities they could not have done had they not had this background. They feel very much on fire with love for the faith, and love for the Church, and they are very eager to share what they have learned.
Catholic Distance University is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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