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SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new online, church-wide higher education organization Tuesday morning.
The LDS Church announced the creation of BYU-Pathway Worldwide, which will be responsible for all online learning opportunities in the Church Educational System, providing various certificate and degree opportunities for students around the world.
“This is a very special day for the Church Educational System and a day of hope and joy for many of our young people worldwide who are seeking to educate themselves and prepare for a successful livelihood,” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s First Presidency, said.
President Uchtdorf announced that Clark Gilbert, the current president of Brigham Young University-Idaho and former president and CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, will take over the operations of BYU Pathway Worldwide as its president.
Pathway was started as a pilot program at BYU-Idaho in 2009, serving three locations in Idaho, Arizona and New York. Since then, the Pathway program has expanded to approximately 500 locations in 50 countries and has served more than 57,000 students.
“Pathway was kind of a hidden treasure within the (Church Educational System) during the past years,” President Uchtdorf said. “We have felt that now is the right time to give increased focus and direction to Pathway and online higher education in the church.”
As the Pathway program continued to grow, the church’s board of education opted to create BYU Pathway Worldwide to “keep up with the Lord,” Gilbert said, and to allow students to further their educational opportunities through all the Church Educational System offers.
“Based on the rapid growth of the Pathway program, the educational needs across the church and the need to work with other church institutions to make this work, it is the right time to expand Pathway,” Gilbert said. “We are part of a worldwide church, and there are members all across the world who are ready for this.”
Henry J. Eyring, current academic vice president at BYU-Idaho, was named president of BYU-Idaho following the church's BYU-Pathway Worldwide announcement Tuesday morning. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made the announcement Tuesday afternoon at the university's regularly-scheduled devotional.
Eyring expressed gratitude for the creation of the new BYU-Pathway Worldwide program and for Gilbert, his predecessor. He said he was not aware "of anyone of greater heart and character and energy," than Gilbert.
"We at BYU-Idaho will be a kind of home ward to (the new program)" to offer support, Eyring said.
Eyring will become the 17th president of BYU-Idaho and is the son of President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. The elder Eyring was the university's 10th president, back when the school was called Ricks College.
"For generations, (BYU-Idaho has) been hallowed ground to my family," Eyring said. "We look forward to continued service in this richly blessed portion of the Lord's vineyard."
Gilbert will officially transition into his role as president of BYU-Pathway Worldwide on April 10, with the Pathway program fully operational on May 1, 2017.
BYU-Pathway Worldwide operations
BYU-Pathway Worldwide will continue to oversee the Pathway program, which is a low-cost educational program that serves the specific needs of individuals wherever they are in the world. Additionally, BYU Pathway Worldwide will coordinate all Church Educational System online certificate and degree programs, which will be tailored to the “need of the local economy,” according to Elder Kim Clark, Church Commissioner of Education for the LDS Church.
Pathway is a year-long program that is broken up into three semesters. All learning opportunities in Pathway will have a religious component included, similar to that of a BYU campus, with one academic class and one religion class offered each semester.
Students enrolled in the Pathway program are not required to have an ecclesiastical endorsement as part of the admission process for that first year, but will be required to have one should they choose to enroll with BYU Pathway Worldwide.
Students in both programs will, however, be asked to “live the standards” of the Church Educational System honor code. Elder Clark said the church didn’t want an ecclesiastical endorsement to turn people away and that the goal was to provide an “opportunity for people to find education and to find a better path in their lives.”
Students who maintain a B average in the Pathway program will have all academic requirements waived, according to Elder Clark, which means students looking to future their education will not be required to have a high school diploma, an ACT score or GPA.
“The intent was to make the Pathway experience in the first year a real test of someone’s interest in, and commitment to, and capacity to do higher education,” Elder Clark said. “And that’s how we’ve run it.”
BYU Pathway Worldwide will continue to expand the programs offered. At the outset, students will be able to pursue certificates and degrees in “areas of high demand,” including business and health care, and computer-related fields such as IT and web design. All certificates and degrees will be taught in English.
Elder Clark said teaching only in English may be seen as an “impediment” to the progress of BYU Pathway Worldwide, but that teaching in English adds “tremendous value” to students as they further their career opportunities.
BYU Pathway Worldwide is intended to be scalable but will not seek institutional accreditation, as all online certification and degree classes will be offered through an existing Church Educational System institution. Additionally, the online component of BYU Pathway Worldwide will be enhanced by an opportunity to have various instructions taught at meeting houses, seminaries and institute buildings throughout the world, with church service missionaries and professionals being instrumental in the day-to-day operations.
Watch: BYU-Pathway Worldwide press conference