Catholic Distance University offers an associate's degree in Catholic studies and an undergraduate degree completion program exclusively through online study.
The first president and chairman of the board was the late Bishop Thomas Welsh, then of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, where the school is located, and who later served as Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Originally begun as the Catholic Home Study Institute, the name was changed in 1996 to Catholic Distance University (CDU) to reflect its status as a degree-granting institution. Dr. Marianne Evans Mount, the president, has been with the university in several capacities since its inception.
Although CDU’s headquarters is located in Hamilton, Virginia, a small town of about 900 residents one hour west of Washington, D.C., its student body is widely scattered. Every state as well as 60 foreign countries have been represented over the past 29 years.
Students are able to pursue certificate and degree programs at the noncredit, undergraduate and graduate level and a Vatican-approved Catechetical Diploma at the undergraduate level.. But what most interests us, is that students interested in receiving a bachelor’s degree in theology can take their final 38 credits at a high-quality, time-flexible institution after completing their general coursework elsewhere. This offers flexibility and cost savings to students who take advantage of a liberal arts core curriculum at another college—preferably one of the solid Catholic institutions in The Newman Guide—then complete a theology degree from home. Also, CDU recently introduced a new associate's degree program in Catholic studies designed to provide a way for students to earn the AA degree first and then move into the bachelor completion program, all at CDU.
The B.A. completion program began in 2004. The first degree was awarded in 2006 and, as of 2012, 43 undergraduate degrees were awarded through this program. CDU’s undergraduate enrollment in 2012-2013 was 101 students, and graduate enrollment was 149 students. When adding non-credit students, about 700-800 students take classes each year.
Students are mostly older adults returning to college, but not exclusively. The vast majority, not surprisingly, are Catholics, but there are a few non-Catholics as well. Students come to CDU as a way to increase their knowledge of the Catholic faith, as well as to bring this knowledge to their families and into their professional lives. Some students hope for positions in Catholic schools or other religious education programs.
CDU is governed by a 19-member board of trustees, five of whom are either bishops or priests. The chairman of the board is Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington. Other board members include Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, Bishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, and retired Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Mount, who helped establish CDU, served as the executive vice president for 12 years before she was named president in 2008. She earned a graduate degree in religious education from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and a doctorate in adult learning and distance education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The graduate dean, Dr. Robert Royal, is a well-known Catholic scholar and author.
In addition to being faithful and flexible, especially for students who have work or family responsibilities, Catholic Distance University is a bargain. The undergraduate tuition for 2012-2013 was $290 per credit or $870 for a three-credit course.
The bachelor of arts completion program in theology accepts students either provisionally or fully, depending on previous credits earned. Students need 88 credits from an accredited college to be fully admitted to the program. Thirty-eight credits, all in theology, must be taken at CDU; eight of these credits can be electives.
All courses are taught in conformity with Church teachings. According to Dr. Mount, “All theology professors are reviewed and approved by Bishop Loverde. We send their curriculum vitae to his office. The mandatum may be obtained in a home diocese or from where a faculty member is working.”
CDU has always been a distance institution. From 1983 until 2000, it used a paper correspondence format. Increasingly, it has gone online and describes itself as “an online learning community that is global.” Instruction is now approximately 80 percent online and 20 percent paper.
One component of the program includes two half-credit courses “Undergraduate Writing Skills” and “Undergraduate Research Skills,“ designed to help students develop tools needed for successful online college work such as study skills and time management.
The Associate of Arts in the Liberal Arts program, with a concentration in Catholic studies, emphasizes study of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Upon completion of this degree, students have the option of transferring to another Catholic college or earning a bachelor’s degree in theology at CDU. CDU also has arranged for students to have library privileges with Woodstock Theological Center Library, a 190,000-volume library housed on the Georgetown University campus in Washington, D.C.
One special academic outreach is to prisoners. Since its beginning, CDU has provided very low-cost correspondence courses to incarcerated Catholics whose names have been put forward by their chaplains.
Catholic Distance University has an online chapel, and the undergraduate dean, Father Bevil Bramwell, O.M.I., celebrates Mass daily at the administrative offices and posts meditations online. He also is the full-time theologian-in-residence and teaches several courses. Students can contact Father Bramwell privately for guidance and post prayer requests.
The Bottom Line
The delivery of education is rapidly changing, and online instruction is a growing and viable alternative to traditional education. Catholic Distance University has been at the forefront of providing quality, faithful Catholic teaching to students seeking flexibility.
The undergraduate completion program, which offers a degree in theology, can be an attractive and low-cost option to students who have completed or are contemplating completing basic, non-major courses elsewhere. Whether for work, location, family or other reasons, more students are likely to view Catholic Distance University as a unique opportunity to receive an education which will enhance an understanding of their Catholic Faith.