Currently, the most well-known school sponsored by the Mormon Church is Brigham Young University, also known as BYU. Another, less-well known, school sponsored by the Mormon Church, is Brigham Young University-Idaho. Located 275 miles north of BYU, this university was previously known as Ricks College, a two-year junior college set in small-town Rexburg, Idaho.
The Mormon Church has always encouraged education. This is apparent in the sponsorship the Church has maintained through its current schools, as well as past academies.
Other examples of church-sponsored education include BYU-Hawaii, the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, a global Church Educational System program, and the many church-sponsored youth programs, seminary, curriculum development, and conferences.
From Junior College to Four-Year University
Previously the largest private junior college in the nation, It was announced in 2000 that Ricks College would become a four year university known as Brigham Young University–Idaho. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that the name change was in order to help give the institution immediate national and international recognition.
Because of the acclaim that BYU has received over the years, it was a logical step for Ricks College to also be connected to the publicity of its sister school. In fact, the transition itself provided a great deal of public interest both from Church members and nationwide media.
In the nearly 6 years since BYU-Idaho began making the transition from being a two-year college to a full-fledged four-year university, there have been many interesting statements made by prominent leaders of the Mormon Church regarding the reason for the change, as well as the potential of the university and its students. For example, Elder Henry B. Eyring, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stated that
[BYU-Idaho] will become a place that people know of because of the insights that will come as we come to understand the teaching and learning process
- BYU-Idaho Devotional address, September 18, 2001, “A Steady, Upward Course,” p. 9.
One unusual aspect of BYU-Idaho’s campus culture is that faculty members are not required or expected to focus their efforts on research and publication, but rather, to spend the bulk of their energy developing better ways to teach. Although the school changed to a university, that focus on how to effectively teach students did not diminish.
The main changes to the college included: renovation of buildings, an increase in student population, students’ ability to stay longer than two years, the loss of the sports program and the gain of a new, innovative activities program, the development of several baccalaureate programs, and the expansion of the faculty.
The loss of the intercollegiate athletic program was possibly the hardest change for many members of the community, particularly former coaches and players. That BYU-Idaho was too remote and its budget too small were stated as reasons for the change.
Throughout the transition, many of the students, faculty, and community members who had been involved with Ricks College for several years held concerns that the school would lose its core flavor through so many changes.
In a letter written to students in the academic catalog, then-president David A. Bednar assured that,
- This continues to be a season of transition at this institution…The programs and courses outlined in this catalog reflect the implementation of the programs being offered at the “new” institution….
- Ricks College had long been recognized as a school where students received personal, individualized attention; where ecclesiastical leaders created spiritual havens for ward members; where students genuinely cared about other students. Many things have already changed at this institution; and, undoubtedly, many more changes will take place in the future. However, the unique environment found on this campus, which is often referred to as the Spirit of Ricks, need not change.
What is known as “The Spirit of Ricks” dates back to the founding of the school, when the administration would often take salary “in kind” rather than in cash, community members pioneered the development of a formal school, and the school was built around the ideals of community, education, sacrifice, and contribution.
The biggest benefit which came from the transition of Ricks College to BYU-Idaho, is the opportunity for more Mormon students to attend the school for a longer period of time, with a more defined focus on long-term educational programs. The growth of the institution consumed high costs of faculty time, new construction, renovation, and financial support, all sponsored by the Church, which truly demonstrates the Mormon Church’s position to support the general education of its members.
- 1888: The Bannock Stake Academy opens in Rexburg, Idaho
- 1898: The school is renamed Fremont Stake Academy
- 1903: The school is renamed Ricks Academy in honor of Thomas E. Ricks, founder of Rexburg and chairman of the school’s first Board of Education
- 1923: The school is renamed Ricks College
- June 2000: Ricks College becomes Brigham Young University–Idaho
- Currently, about 12,000 students attend BYU-Idaho, coming from all 50 states and 60 countries
- Half of the student body have served as Mormon missionaries
- One-fourth of the student body are married
- Like their counterparts at BYU-Provo, students agree to live by an Honor Code
- Students can earn either associates or bachelors degrees divided among the six colleges
- There are currently about 40 major buildings on the 400 acre campus
- BYU-Idaho is located in Rexburg, Idaho and is within driving distance of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- The city is also the future home of the Rexburg Idaho Temple
Also see BYU-Idaho