BYU-Idaho has a long history of providing educational opportunities to underserved student populations. In 2009, President Kim B. Clark oversaw the creation of the BYU-Idaho Pathway program. This program was initially designed to address the significant roadblocks holding back many potential students from pursuing higher education such as:
- High educational costs
- Lack of academic confidence
- Inadequate academic preparation
- Developing English language skills
The Pathway program was created to help students gain both life and professional skills in a context of faith and to prepare them for success at a local university or online through BYU-Idaho.
Key Decisions for the Pathway Program
President Clark later identified several key decisions that proved to be critical for the eventual growth and success of the Pathway program in providing new educational opportunities for many people who lacked them.
The original Pathway program combined online learning with a local gathering where students met together to participate in both academic and religious learning experiences. These cohorts of students would teach, support, and help one another in pursuit of their shared educational goals.
Pathway partnered with other CES institutions as its source for pre-matriculation academic courses and with Institutes of Religion for its religious education courses.
The program was a low cost for both domestic and international student populations thereby significantly reducing the cost barriers to higher education.
Removing Other Barriers
Understanding that many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted an education, administrators worked to remove additional roadblocks to admissions, including:
Pathway did not require an ecclesiastical endorsement for admission.
BYU-Idaho waived all other academic entrance requirements into their online certificates and degrees for students who achieved a "B" average in the Pathway program.
This allowed students with poor high school performance or a low ACT score to apply to Pathway as a bridge to college.
Three Primary Purposes of the Pathway Program
As the original Pathway program began, three primary purposes were identified which tied into BYU-Idaho’s mission of developing disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the Church, and their communities. The Pathway program was designed to:
- Help students get the gospel down into their hearts
- Help them become capable learners, and
- Prepare them to lead and support families.
How Pathway Has Grown
With some refinements over time, the Pathway program began to blossom and grow. New sites were opened each year and the number of domestic and international students interested in participating in Pathway grew continuously.
By 2017, more than 38,000 students were enrolled in the Pathway program or in one of BYU-Idaho’s online certificates or degrees. It is estimated that nearly 73,000 students were served from 2009 to 2017.
Each year a growing number of students enrolled in BYU-Idaho’s online courses, earned associate or bachelor’s degrees, and improved their employment opportunities.
The tremendous success of the Pathway program significantly increased the number of online degree-seeking students at BYU-Idaho. When President Kim B. Clark accepted a new assignment to serve as the Commissioner of the Church Education System and Clark G. Gilbert was named his successor as President of BYU-Idaho, it became clear that significant efforts needed to be undertaken to meet the rapidly rising number of online degree-seeking students coming through the Pathway program.
Additionally, university administrators and the Church Board of Education were keenly aware that the needs of BYU-Idaho’s online students differed significantly from the needs of most of BYU-Idaho’s campus population. A new structure and organization were needed to better serve the growing number of online students and the many being underserved by traditional academic institutions.