By Cecily Markland
Arizona Students Enjoy Educational Opportunities, Cost Savings of BYU-I Pathway Program
The BYU-Idaho Pathway distance-learning program takes priesthood-driven, Church-sponsored higher education to thousands of students around the world. In 2009, when Pathway was launched, Mesa was one of three pilot sites.
By the time the 2014 winter semester began, Pathway had reached 7,000 students and 170 sites were under operation or had been announced from Alaska to South Africa, including in 18 countries.
The Arizona program has seen steady growth as well, and, in July the East Mesa and West Mesa sites were again “pilots.”
“We held the first multi-site graduation,” says Elder Daniel Shoemaker, who, with his wife, Lila, serves as a service missionary with the Pathway program.
“This graduation ceremony was another groundbreaking experience … a model for future such events,” said Elder Robert George. “There are a few smaller sites that are doing this, but nothing as large as the Mesa sites.”
The graduation was held at Mesa Community College Institute of Religion, where 600 were in attendance to honor approximately 200 graduates, ranging in age from 18 to 72.
The program’s popularity stems from the fact that it is a perfect fit for many who “have faced barriers of cost, time, fear, or lack of confidence to succeed in a university environment,” the program website states. “Pathway provides an educational opportunity never before thought possible.”
“Pathway is a low-cost educational opportunity that combines online courses with local gatherings,” it explains. “Students earn college credit that is eligible for transfer to BYU-Idaho and other universities.”
Students in the Pathway receive most of their instruction online, then meet weekly, typically in local meetinghouses, for institute classes and academic review. Each semester, students take five credit hours of classes, including institute, and the Pathway program takes three semesters, or one year, to complete.
That preparatory year opens the doors so students can go on to certificate, two-year degree, and four-year degree programs.
“As Church-service missionaries, we are called to oversee a cohort of students and to guide them through the program,” Elder Shoemaker says.
In addition to the convenience of online classes, the blessings of religious education and the support of missionaries as mentors, Pathway students find significant cost advantages as well.
“The cost is only $65 per credit hour,” says Elder Shoemaker.
That’s less than half the cost of a similar course taught on the BYU-Idaho campus and far less than other universities, Elder Shoemaker explains.
After the first year online, tuition stays at the same low level for students who go on to work toward completion of a two- or four-year degree.
As the program has grown in numbers, it also has expanded academically. At the beginning of 2013, there were seven bachelor’s degrees to choose from and just more than 130 courses online. Additional degrees are being added all the time and it was anticipated that “the number of online courses will likely double by the end of 2015.”
Arizona has recently opened five new sites in Chinle, Prescott, Show Low, Thatcher and Gateway (serving Gilbert/Queen Creek).
More than 320 students registered for the Gateway site, making it the third largest Pathway site in the world, and classes will be taught in two locations: the Highland High School Seminary building and San Tan Park Ward meetinghouse.
Kathleen George, who, with her husband, Robert, serves at the Mesa West site, says they have enjoyed being part of “Arizona’s exponential growth, since the beginning in 2009.”
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of serving as a Pathway missionary is watching the Pathway program change members’ lives for the better,” Sister George says.
“It’s an amazing experience to witness students feeling of God’s love for them personally, while deepening their testimony and increasing their faith,” she says. “Attaining a higher education for most students is a lifelong dream and Pathway offers an opportunity to accomplish this goal. As missionaries, we are continually blessed by our association with these students in the Pathway program.”
For more information about Pathway, visit: www.pathway.lds.org