BYU-Pathway Worldwide passes 50,000-student milestone, continues as valuable higher-education resource

When BYU-Pathway Worldwide first began in 2009, it offered a small university-preparation pilot program run by BYU-Idaho with just 50 students. This year, just three years after being launched as a separate institution for higher education within the Church Educational System, BYU-Pathway Worldwide has reached a new milestone as student enrollment for the year exceeded 50,000

With 33,238 students enrolled in the PathwayConnect program and another 23,172 enrolled in the online certificate and degree programs offered from BYU-Idaho and supported by BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the 2020 student enrollment reached 51,583.

BYU-Pathway Worldwide has seen exponential enrollment growth over the last ten years.
BYU-Pathway Worldwide has seen exponential enrollment growth over the last ten years. Credit: Mary Archbold, Deseret News

“Crossing the 50,000 students milestone in 10 years is a significant growth milestone,” said BYU-Pathway Worldwide President Clark Gilbert. “But more importantly, it signals to those students that BYU-Pathway Worldwide is here to stay and that it is an important part of the Church Educational System.”

How BYU-Pathway Worldwide is becoming one of the most valuable education opportunities for returned missionaries

With students in 152 countries, including six — Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Republic of the Congo, Singapore and Sri Lanka — into which the PathwayConnect program expanded this year, BYU-Pathway Worldwide is playing a vital role in the gathering of Israel, President Gilbert explained. 

As President Russell M. Nelson said during the October 2020 general conference, “When we speak of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil, we are referring, of course, to missionary, temple, and family history work. We are also referring to building faith and testimony in the hearts of those with whom we live, work and serve. Anytime we do anything that helps anyone — on either side of the veil — to make and keep their covenants with God, we are helping to gather Israel.”

Impact and outcomes

Raul Hidalgo, a BYU-Pathway student from Mexico, walks with his family in front of the temple.
Raul Hidalgo, a BYU-Pathway student from Mexico, walks with his family in front of the temple. Credit: BYU-Pathway Worldwide

By working closely with Church area presidencies and collaborating with the Welfare and Self-Reliance Department, BYU-Pathway is seeing outcomes reflective of the gathering as President Nelson described it.

The four most significant outcomes President Gilbert has seen are:

  • Improved self-reliance. Upon completing their programs, students have improved job prospects and are better able to provide for themselves and their families. 
  • Leadership. BYU-Pathway students learn how to lead, teach, manage a group and be accountable to deadlines. These skills expand leadership opportunities and help individuals better serve one another and build the Church, particularly in areas where the Church is new or growing rapidly. 
  • Continued self-development for returned missionaries. With over 10% of recently returned missionaries enrolling in BYU-Pathway upon returning home, the program builds on missionaries’ momentum for personal and spiritual growth and helps continue to propel them forward as they return from the mission field. 
  • Missionary opportunities. Around 5% of students enrolled in BYU-Pathway are nonmembers, and nearly one third of those end up converting to the Church during the program. Through its focus on temporal and spiritual learning, BYU-Pathway Worldwide offers a perfect opportunity for people to “come and see” what the Church has to offer and shows what the gospel means in a practical and applied way. 

A resource for Zion

By working to be a resource for the Church’s various areas and adapting to help meet the needs of the people and members in those areas, BYU-Pathway Worldwide is proving to be a blessing for many, especially those who didn’t think they could get an affordable education, President Gilbert said. 

In working with area presidencies, the constant question guiding the development and expansion of BYU-Pathway Worldwide is: “How can this become a resource for each area based on their needs?”

As BYU-Pathway Worldwide vice president of field operations, Brian Ashton, explained it, BYU-Pathway area managers work with Church area presidencies to make sure BYU-Pathway programs are helping fulfill the goals of the area.

In the Africa West area, for example, at the request of the area presidency, BYU-Pathway has focused primarily on “developing leaders and helping returned missionaries get an education and jobs so that they can support families,” Ashton said. “With the support of the area presidency in Africa West, about 40% of our enrollment comes from those serving in leadership positions in their wards and stakes. And over 40% of returned missionaries in Africa West enroll in BYU-Pathway’s programs within a year of returning home from their mission. If area presidencies have specific goals that we can help them accomplish, my hope is that they will reach out to their BYU-Pathway area manager.”

Because of this area-specific focus, how BYU-Pathway develops in one area will be different than some of others but, in every case, the focus is on developing and evolving to be a resource that meets the needs of the area and the Church, President Gilbert said. 

The global reach of BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
The global reach of BYU-Pathway Worldwide. Credit: Mary Archbold, Deseret News

Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and former member of the Africa West Area Presidency, shared how BYU-Pathway Worldwide has become a beneficial resource in the Africa West Area.

“Pathway provides a means for our people to gain knowledge, skill, self-discipline, and to become self-reliant,” he said, “BYU-Pathway offers our returned missionaries a means of climbing out of the pit of poverty, now strengthened by their mission experience. To the extent their trajectory improves, so will the number of those who choose to serve increase. This in turn is key to the future of the Church in West Africa.”

BYU-Pathway offers returned missionary scholarship program as thousands of missionaries return home early

Similarly, Elder S. Mark Palmer, a General Authority Seventy and member of the Africa South Area Presidency, said, “There is a keen appreciation throughout our area amongst members of the difference that education can make. … So to finally get approval for BYU-Pathway in Zimbabwe in 2020 … has been greeted with much joy by the members and the leaders.” 

BYU-Pathway, he said, has proven to be a “great bridge builder with governments who see how we are helping people spiritually and temporally.”

Through BYU-Pathway Worldwide, higher education at an affordable price is readily accessible around the world wherever the Church is, and thousands of students who weren’t being served through traditional campuses and universities are now being served, President Gilbert said. “The 50,000-student milestone is evidence that we are fulfilling those needs.”

President Nelson has said that “Pathway is for the Kingdom.” It is part of the gathering of Israel — and with 50,000 students around the world, it isn’t a start-up anymore, President Gilbert said. “It is part of Zion.”