The Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program (LSP) is an online liberal arts program offering courses for all grade levels. At the college level, courses can often be applied toward a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, especially through one of the colleges that have agreements with the LSP.
Since 2010, the LSP has combined a four-year Great Books Program with four theology courses taught by Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. Students can join the LSP as high school or college students.
Launched in the year 2000, the Great Books Program was inspired by the late Dr. Mortimer Adler, who advocated the “great books” approach to education that is used in dozens of liberal arts colleges and universities. But Adler hoped to see the study of these important Western texts begin in high school, so founders Patrick Carmack, J.D., and Dr. Peter Redpath of St. John’s University in New York developed an online program. Now partnered with Ignatius Press and its editor Father Fessio—a former student of Pope Benedict XVI and former chancellor of Ave Maria University—the program now has more than 220 students taking its online courses, and students have come from more than 40 countries.
The Great Books curriculum involves reading all or part of a Great Book each week and meeting online for a two-hour Socratic discussion. The discussions are live and conversational, usually including between 15 and 20 students and two moderators, many of them Catholic university professors. Students working for college credit also submit weekly essays and two 1,500-1,800 word essays per semester.
With the addition of Father Fessio's theology courses, the LSP's undergraduate-level courses can count toward a degree program elsewhere. Graduates have attended numerous colleges and universities, with LSP courses accepted for as many as 60 college credits. The American Council on Education has formally recommended that its more than 2,000 affiliated colleges and universities accept six credit hours per semester of the eight-semester Great Books Program for college level credit, and three credit hours for each of the four theology courses.
While there are limitations to an online program, Catholic families may find much to admire in a classical Catholic curriculum that allows students to stay home at a very low cost. The Great Books Program tuition of $1,495 per semester or $2,990 per year for college-level credit has not changed in 13 years, and LSP offers discounts for early enrollment. The theology courses are $250 per credit hour, with the same early enrollment discounts.
Moreover, high school-aged students in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington may be eligible for state tuition reimbursement.
Fr. Fessio serves as chancellor of the LSP, and the president is attorney Carmack, who participated in Dr. Adler’s last several Socratic discussion groups in 1999 and 2000 and studied at the Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Carmack’s varied background includes former administrative law Judge at the Oklahoma State Corporation Commission, member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, former CEO of an independent petroleum exploration and production company, and founder and former chairman of the International Caspian Horse Society. Dr. Redpath, a respected Thomist philosopher, chairs the Angelicum portion of the program and directs the Great Books Program.
Adler believed that conversation (the dialectic) aims at teaching students how to think critically and thus attain wisdom, as opposed to a monologue (such as a lecture), which tends to result in indoctrination and mere memorization. In Reforming Education, written in the 1940s, Adler already saw that many Catholic schools were losing their way and following the path of public institutions.
Taking a different path, students in LSP's Great Books Program start with the ancient Greeks the first year, followed by the ancient Romans, the Medievals, and the Moderns. Students are exposed to works including Sacred Scripture, St. Augustine’s Confessions and City of God, St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, St. Thomas More’s Utopia, Shakespeare’s great plays, and a short story by Flannery O’Connor. The program also includes exposure to Catholic ascetical and mystical theology, including `a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, and St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul.
The readings are accompanied by more than 2,400 pages of study guides by Dr. Robert and Suzanne Alexander, edited by author Joseph Pearce and Thomist philosophers to provide a Catholic understanding. Carmack estimates that students will read about 45-60 minutes a night for four or five nights a week, depending on the reader.
Identical, live first-year classes are scheduled at different times of day to give students a choice that fits their schedules. Although the program is online, there is opportunity for interaction. Students meet in the online classrooms, may become friends through e-mail exchanges, and sometimes meet during or at the end of the academic year.
The four LSP theology courses are asynchronous and so may be taken at any time of year.
Students who complete any portion of the 60 credit hours can earn a degree from an accredited college in an additional one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years, assuming LSP credits are accepted. LSP has degree-completion agreements with Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Benedictine College, Campion College in Australia, Catholic Distance University, Bethel University and Harrison Middleton University. Although hundreds of colleges accept ACE-recommended credits, not all do; students should inquire with colleges they may be considering.
Students who start LSP’s program after high school will need four years to complete the 48 credit hours in the Great Books Program, and two years to complete the theology courses, which may be taken with the Great Books courses. But some colleges—including Catholic Distance University—allow students to take LSP courses at the same time or even after their own courses. Other students may be content to spread out their studies over time, thereby reducing annual costs and simultaneously getting a head start on a career or exploring a religious vocation.
The Bottom Line
Families considering taking advantage of the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program or any part of it should be prepared to do a little extra homework and study the options and institutions. They should also carefully consider the cost and time implications of distance learning and how to provide for a student’s ongoing personal and spiritual development outside of a four-year campus experience.
Having done that, many students will find the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program enticing. It offers something unique in Catholic higher education: worldwide access to a relatively inexpensive, authentically Catholic, high-quality, liberal arts program that can be accessed from home and commenced during high school years.