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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

How Important Is Education?

            This week seems to be “back to school” week for many students. My grandchildren live in five different school districts, but all of them went back to school this week. The children in my local area went back to school as did many college students. However, my classes do not start until the middle of September.

Many parents are taking “first day of school” pictures and remarking about how fast their children are growing up. There are smiles of joy at the development of their children and sadness at the realization that their children are advancing year by year and will soon be out of the house.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He says that parents should consider and ask this question, “What will my youngster learn in college?” Then he gives some statistics put out by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that give some disturbing answers to the question.

The organization evaluated every four-year public university as well as hundreds of private colleges and universities. That’s more than 1,100 institutions that enroll nearly 8 million students, more than two-thirds of all students enrolled in four-year liberal arts schools nationwide. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s findings were published in its report “What Will They Learn? 2018-19.”

It doesn’t look good.

The ACTA assigned grades tell some of the story. Just 23 (2%) of the over 1,100 colleges earn an A grade; 343 colleges (31%) earn a B grade; 347 (31%) get a C grade; 273 (24%) earn a D; and 134 (12%) colleges earn an F. If you’re thinking that your youngster will get a truly liberal arts education, you are sadly mistaken.

It turns out that less than half of the schools studied require courses in traditional literature, foreign language, U.S. government, or history and economics….

…The reality is something different with only 68% of the schools the American Council of Trustees and Alumni surveyed requiring three or fewer of the seven core subjects. Their curricula poorly represent critical subjects such as U.S. history, economics, and foreign languages….

…Even though some of the best-known colleges earn poor marks for their general education curricula, it doesn’t necessarily mean they do all things poorly. A student can get an excellent education at these schools if classes are chosen wisely.

            Williams says that this discussion brings up an issue that is not heard often enough, “how important is a college education in the first place.” A college education may be detrimental to the success of a student if he/she does not learn the important things. In fact, there are many jobs that do not require a college degree, such as flight attendants, janitors, and salesmen. With the cost of a college education continuing to climb higher and higher and students receiving a less-than- adequate education, this is a good time for parents and young adults to discuss this issue.

            This seems to be a good place to share information about my college program. Ten years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started a “tiny pilot program” with 50 students. This program now includes “at least 45,000 students and a mushrooming global footprint.” The program is now in 133 countries besides the United States

BYU-Pathway Worldwide now offers a full private college education to U.S. students for less than $8,760. BYU-PW tuition prices drop even lower – often far lower – in other countries, providing opportunities for a university education to capable students who before could only dream of them.

            BYU-Pathway began with 50 students, and it is now the “largest institution of higher education in the educational system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” How is BYU-Pathway growing so rapidly while other institutions are struggling? Is BYU-Pathway taking students that would otherwise go to other schools? No! BYU-Pathway is “serving the hidden many…. BYU-PW is not taking students from other schools and programs. It is serving a new educational category” – people who would not be going to college without it.

BYU-PW students begin in the one-year PathwayConnect program. PathwayConnect is what the original 50 students started in the pilot 10 years ago. The program does not require an ACT or SAT test, and students do not need the ecclesiastical endorsement required at other church schools. Students enroll in two classes per semester for three semesters. The six classes include three religion courses and one each in life skills, professional skills and university skills. The latter three classes include math and writing skills.

The students take the courses online, but in a unique twist, they also meet once a week in small groups. It is in those meetings that PathwayConnect builds student confidence. Students take turns leading class discussions while providing each other with encouragement and support. As students gain confidence in themselves, they also gain confidence in BYU-PW.

            About 56 percent of the students who start PathwayConnect complete the year. Approximately 95 percent of those student earn a B average and qualify for cheaper tuition -- $73 per credit – in the BYU-Idaho’s online degree programs. These programs are subsidized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and require an endorsement from a church leader.

            The second major innovation in the school is the structure of its degree programs. The online programs all have stackable certificates and degrees that work together for the benefit of the students. 

 Push skills-heavy courses other schools reserve for the fourth year all the way up into the first year so students can earn employable certificates sooner. Then make those certificates an integral part of associate and bachelor degrees. One or more certificates stacked together make an associate degree, which in turn stacks into a bachelor’s degree.

            It appears that the second innovation works well with the first one. Once a student has a certificate and can use it to improve their job situation, their confidence increases in themselves and in their ability to gain a college education. “Of those students who complete a certificate, 92% continue toward a degree or achieve better employment.”

            I remember when I started my first PathwayConnect class. I looked at the list of assignments for the week, and I was nearly in tears with anxiety of how I would accomplish the task of completing all of them. The Holy Ghost told me that I could do it if I took one assignment at a time and did not worry about the rest for that time period. I took that counsel seriously and applied it to that class and to every class since then. I also applied it to the number of courses that I take each semester. I do not push myself to carry a “full load” of classes but take only the number that I feel I can handle in any given semester. By taking one or two courses at a time, I can eventually earn a college degree. Why do I and so many other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that education is important? It is simple!

            Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are commanded to gain as much knowledge as possible during this life because we can take all that we learn into our next life and be further ahead in our eternal journey. We are taught that “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36). We are told that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24). We are also taught that we are to “obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:53). With such an emphasis on life-long learning, is it any wonder that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing all that it can do to help as many people as possible to gain more university learning?

            Williams asked, “how important is a college education in the first place?” The leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say that a college education is eternally important. However, not all colleges and universities provide the same kind of training and education. Different schools receive different grades in how well they are fulfilling their stated missions. Some schools take the money and give little in return, while other schools charge little money and give much in return. Students and their parents must be aware of what is available to them and then choose wisely.

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