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SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Business College, Utah’s fourth-oldest higher-education institution, turned 130 years old last week.
The two-year private college owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is younger than just the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Westminster College among the current institutions in the state of Utah.
While it is one of the oldest institutions in Utah, it has been one of the widest changing universities in the state in its curriculum and even location — only moving into the Triad Center in downtown Salt Lake City a decade ago.
The college opened its doors on Nov. 15, 1886, as the Salt Lake Stake Academy — a grade-school instructional school, which met in the basement of a building called the Social Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. An article from the Deseret News from that date describes the opening.
“The school room was filled with students, every seat being occupied and a member of the committee having charge of the establishment of the school, and the admission of pupils, remarked that dozens of applicants had been refused admission, because (of) lack of room,” the article stated.
“The school room, though located in the basement, is a very pleasant apartment. The committee have caused it to be newly painted and furnished with desks of the most approved pattern, and other school appliances,” the reporter went on to write.
Various speakers shared their remarks of the school, one likening it to the “offshoot of a nucleus” Brigham Young had created with the Brigham Young Academy (now BYU) in 1875. The Salt Lake Stake Academy was modeled after the Brigham Young Academy.
The official enrollment number was 84 students for the school’s first term, according to Lynn Hilton in "History of LDS Business College and its parent institutions," published in 1995.
With enrollment expanding beyond that, the school moved to the Eagle Gate Schoolhouse — just down the street for temporary use shortly after, Hilton wrote. Many other locations have existed since, including the Wall Mansion on South Temple.
In 1890, the Salt Lake Stake Academy was renamed to LDS College — a business curriculum was added in 1896.
It was renamed LDS University in 1901 before reverting back to LDS College in 1927 for four years. In 1931, it became the LDS Business College after lower grades (a grade 9-12 high school) of the college were dropped during the Great Depression as a cost-cutting measure.
The college even sponsored athletics — primarily basketball beginning in 1900 — until 1931, under the “Saints” team nickname.
Student enrollment, which began at 84 in its first semester, has risen and fluctuated ever since — dropping the most in 1931 when the college dropped its grade school courses. While the Great Depression caused a dip in enrollment, other moments affected enrollment.
LDS Business College director of public affairs Howard Collett said a recent example of this was when the LDS Church changed the age requirement for its missionaries in 2012 and many left to serve missions after high school instead of potentially enrolling at a two-year school before leaving.
In 2006, prior to moving into the Triad Center, the student population was about 800, according to Collett. Today it boasts an enrollment of about 2,100 students.
The school’s focus today, Collett said, is getting students jobs.
While the school morphed from grade-school education to a business college based on the economy, the school adds new areas of emphasis to adapt to the growing changes in America’s labor needs now.
For example, it has recently added or expanded in areas such as cyber security, social media and medical coding and dropped secretarial degrees in the 1990s when that became a dying field.
What is taught at the school — even with its small size — is much like how the school has evolved over the past 130 years.
“It just depends a lot on the changes in the economy and who is hiring what,” Collett said. “For most colleges, it would take them years to start a curriculum, so being a little bit smaller, we’re a little bit more agile.”