Elder Holland installs new president at BYU-Pathway, calls program the most important church education development in a century
With new President Brian Ashton in place, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said the possibilities in BYU-Pathway Worldwide’s future “are staggering, quite frankly.”
BYU-Pathway Worldwide is the most important and far-reaching development in more than a century for the educational system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a senior church leader said Thursday during the inauguration of BYU-PW’s new president.
Brian Ashton not only will be second president of a program, he should be its chief moral and spiritual officer, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who officially installed Ashton.
In five years, BYU-PW has expanded from four small U.S. sites to provide affordable higher education to more than 57,000 students who now meet in 188 countries and nearly every stake in the church. (A stake is a grouping of five to 12 congregations.)
Elder Holland called BYU-PW an instant success.
“I consider the creation of BYU–Pathway Worldwide to be the most important and most far-reaching development in the Church Educational System since the creation of seminaries and institutes of religion over a century ago,” he said.
Ashton earned a bachelor’s degree at BYU and an MBA from Harvard. He joined BYU-PW in 2018 after running 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 served as president of the Texas Houston South Mission, and he and his wife, Melinda, are the parents of seven children.
Elder Holland said Ashton is in the church’s educational vanguard reaching members and other students who need the Pathway program. He called Ashton “our multi-skilled specialist who goes into the fray first, meets immediate needs where you can and boosts many of your students on to further education, productive professional lives, participatory citizenship and strong family lives.”
BYU-PW combines two programs, PathwayConnect and the online courses at BYU-Idaho and Ensign College. The combination is designed to build up students who have dropped out of college or didn’t think it was for them, and deliver it to them at an affordable price.
Elder Holland is chairman of the executive committee of the BYU-PW board of trustees. He also is the former commissioner of church education and former president of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
“Your program is different and exciting in kind as well as degree from anything we have ever done, with all the marks of individuality and excitement that characterize an idea whose time has come,” he said.
Church leaders named Ashton to succeed Elder Clark G. Gilbert as BYU-PW president in May 2021. He took over on Aug. 1, but his inauguration was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Elder Gilbert is now the church commissioner of education.
The Church Educational System now serves nearly 1 million students with more than 60,000 instructors and has a worldwide footprint through BYU–Pathway Worldwide, Elder Holland said.
“While readily acknowledging the educational, social and economic boon this program will be to these students, it is this spiritual impact, the part that is not readily available from other universities or other programs, that will justify the church’s support and justifies your appointment this day,” Elder Holland said.
He said the board of trustees, made up of church leaders, is prepared to support more growth.
“So, president, do what you do well,” he said to Ashton. “Serve and strengthen the students you have, and legions will come to join you. When you have done the best you can by them, we will grow the operation to serve more nations and more cultures and more languages. The possibilities in the future are staggering, quite frankly.”
PathwayConnect is a one-year, low-cost educational program that helps students develop confidence, become self-reliant and gain leadership experience through a mix of online academic courses, religious education and of weekly face-to-face meetings with other students.
Students who complete PathwayConnect automatically qualify for BYU-Idaho’s online degree program. American students pay $77 per credit. Tuition slides based on national economics. Students in Zimbabwe, for example, pay $5 per credit.
BYU-PW offers guaranteed scholarships to those who start their education through the program.
“BYU-Pathway’s strategy is to serve those who have not traditionally had access to higher education — the hidden many — and to do so wherever The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized,” Ashton said. “Our goal is to make BYU-Pathway accessible and able to be completed by anyone who’s willing to abide by the worthiness standards for admission, regardless of where they live or their financial status.”
Ashton listed a number of his goals:
- Build awareness of Pathway in every church congregation.
- Make the BYU-PW’s operating model scaleable for whatever size the church needs it to be.
- Discover additional innovative, inspired ways to reduce the cost of the BYU-Pathway education without lowering quality or losing one-on-one experiences.
- Provide more scholarships.
- Offer mentoring.
- Overcome technology barriers.
- Explore the possibility of making Pathway available to those who don’t speak English.
- Simplify application and ecclesiastical endorsement processes, especially for international students and leaders.
- Shorten the time to graduation.
- Help students more effectively prepare to find jobs.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first vice chair of the board of trustees and first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over Thursday’s inauguration. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducted the inauguration as a member of the board of trustees.
“God bless you and God bless BYU-Pathway as we go forward in the work of the Lord,” President Oaks said.
Other church leaders attended the inauguration, including Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham and Young Woman General President Bonnie H. Cordon.
“Nowhere does the church educational system come together as a system more effectively and more profoundly than through BYU-Pathway worldwide,” Elder Gilbert said.
Ashton thanked the leaders of other church schools, all of whom attended the inauguration — BYU President Kevin Worthen, BYU-Idaho President Henry J. Eyring, BYU-Hawaii President John Kauwe and Ensign College President Bruce Kusch.
In 2021, BYU-PW had 57,459 students — 35,106 in PathwayConnect and 27,716 students seeking online degrees through BYU-Idaho and Ensign College.
BYU-PW is rolling out its programs in 10 new countries and territories this year — Bahrain, Burundi, Hong Kong, Macau, Mali, Morocco, Nepal, Réunion, South Korea and Taiwan.
Last year, 64% of the PathwayConnect students lived outside the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, Americans and Canadians made up 64% of the online degree students.
The program has met a need in the United States. In Utah alone, BYU-PW had 9,350 students in 2022.
“President and Sister Ashton, on behalf of missionaries serving around the world, our faith and prayers are with you,” said Sister Sara McGill, a volunteer Pathway missionary who spoke at the inauguration. Pathway missionaries serve as facilitators at the weekly student gatherings.
“Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world, and BYU-Pathway is one of the ways he is lifting souls worldwide,” she added.
The median age of BYU-PW students is 31, and 57% are female.
Watch the inauguration here.