Brian K. Ashton will become the second president of fast-growing BYU-Pathway Worldwide, headquartered in Salt Lake City. He will succeed Elder Clark G. Gilbert, who will be the new commissioner of education for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

Both appointments begin Aug. 1 and were made by the church’s Board of Education, which includes the First Presidency.

Ashton has been working for his longtime friend Elder Gilbert as field operations vice president at BYU–PW, which has more than 51,000 students in over 150 countries. His role included oversight for the global efforts of 2,500 Pathway Connect service missionaries.

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The Board of Education has directed BYU-Pathway to be the point of access for online certificates and degrees offered by the other institutions in the Church Educational System, such as BYU-Idaho and Ensign College, Ashton said.

“Our role is really to determine what’s needed by those online students, and then provide access,” he said.

Ashton plans to maintain the direction set by Elder Gilbert.

“He has really set a foundation for BYU-Pathway that is tremendous, and I’m going to stand on his shoulders,” Ashton said. “We’re not going to change the strategy. It’s going to be steady as she goes. We’re going to continue, under the direction of the church Board of Education, look to continue to bless the lives of those who need education throughout the world.”

Ashton earned a bachelor’s degree at BYU, where as a student editor he share an office with Elder Gilbert, and an MBA from Harvard, where the two continued their friendship. Elder Gilbert hired Ashton to join BYU-PW in 2018.

Ashton had led an educational startup company focused on correctional and life skills education. He also served as second counselor in the church’s Sunday School general presidency from 2015 to 2019. He also served as president of the Texas Houston South Mission, and he and his wife, Melinda, are the parents of seven children.

He delivered a devotional address at BYU in 2017 titled “Happiness, deceit and small things” and another at Ensign College two weeks ago in which he said desire combined with faith can help overcome a lack of opportunity, doubt and weakness.

Ashton said his appointment was extended by two members of the Board of Education — President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency and former president of BYU-Idaho, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and former president of BYU.

Both President Eyring and Elder Holland previously served as church commissioner of education.

Elder Gilbert, a former president and CEO of the Deseret News, was sustained as a General Authority Seventy during the church’s April 2021 general conference.

President Russell M. Nelson smiles after installing Clark Gilbert as president of BYU-Pathway Worldwide in 2017.
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints installs Clark G. Gilbert as the first president of BYU-Pathway Worldwide at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. | BYU Pathway-Worldwide

He succeeds Elder Paul V. Johnson as the 19th church commissioner of education. Elder Johnson was named to the church’s Presidency of the Seventy in April, necessitating an end to his second stint as commissioner.

Elder Gilbert was the founding president of BYU-PW, established in 2017. He previously served as president of BYU-Idaho and as a professor at Harvard Business School.

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BYU–PW provides college education opportunities to more members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by offering affordable college education and Pathway Connect, a program that helps them get started and build confidence. Degrees through BYU-PW can cost less than $10,000.

In a dozen years, BYU-PW’s enrollment has mushroomed from 50 students its first semester in 2009 to 51,583 this year.

“We are on track for significant growth again this year,” Ashton said.

PathwayConnect combines spiritual learning with online courses that lead to college programs that build into certificates and degrees offered by accredited Church Educational System schools BYU-Idaho and Ensign College.

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“We’re serving people who higher education has historically just not served,” Elder Gilbert told the Deseret News earlier this year. “I mean they’re just not on their radar. We serve adult learners, we serve first-generation learners and we serve lower-income learners.”

Six-year graduation rates for community colleges are about 15%. BYU-PW’s graduation rate is three times better, 45% to 48%, for half the tuition price, Elder Gilbert said.

Ashton said church leadership has made education a priority.

“In the First Presidency, we have two former presidents of church schools (President Eyring and President Dallin H. Oaks, former president of BYU), and then in the Quorum of the Twelve, you’ve got two more (Elder Holland and former BYU-Idaho president Elder David A. Bednar),” he said. “Clearly the Lord cares about education, and I think he wants to use it to move his work forward and we’ll just have to see where that goes, but we hope that BYU-Pathway and our partners can be part of that.”

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