In a move designed to provide more in-depth education for a greater number of students, LDS Church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, will become a four-year school to be known as Brigham Young University — Idaho.
LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told reporters at a press conference Wednesday morning that the change — "will be phased in over a period of time and accomplished in such a way as to preserve the school's autonomy and identity."
The name change is designed "to give the school immediate national and international recognition," he said.
The changes include phasing out the school's highly touted intercollegiate athletics program "and shift its emphasis to a year-round activity program designed to involve and meet the needs of a diverse student body," President Hinckley said. The decision to do away with the athletic program was made because it takes "too much money, a great amount of time and energy."
"In this instance, we'd like to change the emphasis there. Ricks is a long ways from everybody; they have to travel great distances. It's a very costly program," President Hinckley said, adding that a program of intramural athletics will be emphasized for student involvement.
The school will offer four-year degrees but no graduate degrees, he said. "Faculty rank will not be a part of the academic structure" there, and no designations for assistant, associate or full professor will be made.
Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and commissioner of education for the church, said the move is not designed to increase emphasis on graduate programs at Brigham Young University in Provo. "It should not change their course at all."
Combined with its larger sister school, BYU in Provo, the church's four-year-school student body population would total 38,547 students, based on enrollment in January 2000. Details of how large the student population could ultimately grow are not known at present, but President Hinckley said any changes to the physical facilities and campus itself "will be modest in nature and scope."
"With some additions and modifications, the physical facilities now in place in Rexburg are adequate to handle the new program. Undoubtedly, some changes to the campus will be necessary."
Elder Eyring, a former president of Ricks College, said the campus and administration there are "so innovative, there's a real possibility that even with the four-year status we may be able to serve more students. They are very creative and looking at ways of using the Internet and changing the existing calendar to have people come in for a full year. There won't be a reduction (in student numbers), and there may be an expansion."
Ricks College now enrolls 8,628 students.
The number of four-year degrees to be offered at the school isn't known yet, Elder Eyring said. "It's just too soon to tell. We're looking at the possibilities." He did say the school would continue to operate as a two-year school for about a year, but there has been no decision made as to when the name change will become effective or when specific programs will either be eliminated or expanded.
"All those things will be worked on as we move forward," President Hinckley said. "It's not going to happen in a day. But the most significant thing to have happen is the transformation from a good two-year college to an even better four-year institution."
The catalyst for the change was simply "that we realized there was an opportunity here, largely because of the wonderful strength already developed there, the opportunity became obvious," Elder Eyring said.
BYU President Merrill J. Bateman said he is excited by the announcement and sees the two schools "sharing resources like library materials, working together, developing online courses. A close collaboration on an academic basis will clearly occur between the two. They will have a distinctive mission relative to BYU. Theirs will be a teaching mission," exclusive, while BYU in Provo has an additional mandate for research, he said.
Even so, graduate programs in Provo will remain "at about the same ratio to undergraduate programs as they are now."
As the Idaho school makes adjustments in its course offerings toward four-year degrees, "I don't see us discontinuing programs here, at least not on the basis of what I now know," Bateman said. "BYU—Idaho still has to define what its emphasis will be and the nature of course offerings in its junior and senior years. I've been in discussions with them on those issues and will continue to be. They will have their mission and we'll have ours."
In terms of administration, the college "will continue to be an autonomous unit not reporting to us like BYU Hawaii does. They'll continue to report to the commissioner of church education for the time being." Both schools have long prided themselves on finding the right balance between secular and spiritual education, and the move "signals that such a mission remains a very high priority for the church," he said.
Doing away with the athletic program at the Idaho school will allow athletes who may have opted for that program "to either find their way to us as freshmen or we may find them in other places. I don't think there will be a major impact on our program. If anything, it may help us," Bateman said.
The school's football program, which has long honed athletes destined for BYU's football team, may be one of the most notable casualties of the move. When asked during the press conference how BYU football coach LaVell Edwards reacted to the news, President Hinckley said, "I don't know, I haven't talked to him."
BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle was surprised to learn Wednesday that Ricks would no longer field intercollegiate sports teams.
Tittle said it is too early to determine the effect on BYU's athletic program but added that there are a number of Cougar players who have come from Ricks over the years.
"We do a fair amount of recruiting there," he said. "We've had a number of athletes come through that pipeline."
Ricks College has been a traditional, national junior college power in football. BYU's leading tackler in 1999, safety Jared Lee, arrived in Provo following his career at Ricks College. BYU head women's basketball coach Trent Shippen previously coached at Ricks College.
Reaction to the news at Ricks College was still taking place at press time, as most officials there learned of the proposed change on Wednesday morning. A handful of administrators knew about the announcement and its contents before that time. Classes were canceled, and employees and their spouses were invited to an 8 a.m. meeting Wednesday in the Hart Auditorium, where President Hinckley's announcement was piped in directly. Students enrolled in summer classes also packed the auditorium.
"When he announced the shift from two- to four-year status, there was an immediate burst of applause in the hall," said Brent Kinghorn, Ricks College community services vice president. "The initial response is definitely enthusiastic."
He said that the "mood in Rexburg and on this campus for years and years has been that the college would never go to the four-year status. That was the feeling repeatedly expressed by the board. It would remain such. Now to say that that is no longer the case, that the time is right to go to four years, has been an exciting announcement for this campus."
Former Ricks President Steven Bennion, who now leads Southern Utah University in Cedar City, says he "probably got asked once a week when Ricks would become a four-year college."
"My answer was always, 'probably never.' I can see that I was wrong."
Bennion, who was president of Ricks College from 1989 to 1997, said he had been an advocate for the school's two-year status because "it exposed more and more students to the experience" at the school.
"The turnover created more exposure to the programs than if the students had stayed longer," he said.
While surprised by the news of the college's change in status, Bennion said he thinks the school and the community of Rexburg will be able to adjust.
"Without knowing any of the particulars, I think a change in the number of students there would be the largest impact on the community," he said. "And if they stay for four years, you've probably got more married students and married student housing. That could impact the college and community."
While Idahoan Virginia Jenkins was caught by surprise, she was clearly delighted with the news. Her son Ryan, who recently graduated from Skyline High School in Idaho Falls, plans to attend Ricks College. And she's pleased that it will have four-year, university status.
"This is very good news. We lived in the East for 12 years, with no access to any of these programs that BYU, Ricks and BYU Hawaii had. Space is so limited for admission to these schools. This is wonderful that more students will be able to go because it will expand the program," she said.
Contributing: Lois Collins, Jeffrey P. Haney, Maria Titze.
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