We were intrigued to read staff writer Braley Dodson’s two-part series on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ past and current efforts to accommodate growth in its Church Educational System. It was fascinating to read the church’s plans to construct a series of junior college campuses across the West in the 1960s went so far as the acquisition of more than nine properties, including a site in Mexico City.
While those plans didn’t come to fruition — the projected costs of building the campuses were far greater than originally foreseen by then-Brigham Young University President Ernest Wilkinson — the proposal showed some inspirational and aspirational thinking over 50 years ago. We believe a similar swing for the fences is needed today to meet the educational needs of faith that is far larger in number than originally envisioned.
Today’s church membership is reportedly more than 16.3 million. That’s a fivefold increase over the 3 million members reported in 1971. At the same time, the number of students able to be accommodated at BYU’s main campus hasn’t seen a similar increase — student enrollment at the Provo campus has increased about 20% from about 25,000 in 1971 to a capped figure of 30,000 today.
Even the full scope of today’s Church Educational System — including sister BYU campuses and the online BYU-Pathway Worldwide program — has been unable to keep up with the church’s growth. That means a shrinking percentage of the church’s members can have the benefit of seeking a church-based education.
Although it’s not for everyone, there are numerous advantages to pursuing higher education in a spiritual setting. We certainly hope church leadership can find ways to offer this path to an increasingly global faith.
As today’s church spans the globe more than ever, the earlier idea of a series of junior college campuses seems too limited. It would be fascinating to envision BYU satellite campuses around the world, but global logistics may make that impractical.
We feel church leaders are on the right track with the online BYU-Pathway Worldwide program. It is currently the largest CES program at 41,426 students, but it could be greatly expanded.
The current Pathway program is multifaceted — including a one-year program aimed to prepare students to earn degrees plus online certificate and degree programs offered through BYU-Idaho. While Pathway touts 37 online programs, just four of those are bachelor degrees and five are associate degrees.
We feel the program should be expanded to include program offerings from the primary BYU campus. As wonderful as BYU-Idaho can be, a global student body could benefit from the academic offerings from the world-renowned Provo BYU campus. When a member of this editorial board was looking for online programs for an advanced degree, it was surprising to find that BYU had no relevant online offerings.
It would also be beneficial to broaden the BYU-Pathway program’s international offerings. The program is available to international students, but it is only offered in English. It would be terrific for the church to identify global regions where this program could best take root and craft some of the program for those regions’ native languages.
According to the church, about 36% of 26,834 students in the Pathway’s one-year preparatory program are from outside the United States and Canada. Among the 18,089 enrolled in BYU-Idaho’s online offerings, about 14% hail from beyond North America.
For BYU’s Provo campus, we’re excited about the prospect of the university making modest changes to its enrollment cap and employing a more holistic admissions process. BYU officials hope to move away from a “checkbox mentality,” where high school students participate in activities to puff up applications instead of fully engaging in an experience. In a way, it seems to be an echo of President Wilkinson from the 1960s, who asserted that grades didn’t necessarily equal ability.
Ultimately, we agree with the goal of helping all Latter-day Saints who wish to pursue a church-based education to have that opportunity. Barring that, we hope people who wish to seek a higher education to fully explore their opportunities, such as Utah Valley University locally.
Currently, about 60% of church members in the United States don’t have a college diploma. We hope the church can expand its offerings so more of its members can “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.”