Rachel Jackman, a Pathway student in Orem, plans to pursue a degree in health care administration upon completion of the program. (Photo courtesy Rachel Jackman)

Rachel Jackman knew it was time to go back to school. She just couldn’t find the best way to get there.

Five years into her second marriage, Jackman and her husband were living in Orem and working to blend their new family of two his, two hers and one theirs. Her husband worked as a sheet metal construction worker, a contract-based job that often left the family in financial uncertainty. A college education was becoming a necessity for Jackman, but she didn’t know how she could get it without neglecting her family.

“It’s hard because I have three kids who live here, and his daughters come every other weekend. It’s a lot,” Jackman says. “It was going to be a lot of sacrifice and work but I didn’t want to just go through my life and not ever have an education, never have the opportunity to work if I needed to.”

Pathway has served 24,357 students in the five years since it began. (Image courtesy Pathway)

When Jackman saw this summer that the deadline for registration at UVU was approaching, she felt compelled to make some decisions. She set her sights on a bachelor’s degree in health care administration and went looking for the best route.

Enter Pathway.

“I heard my aunt say something about Pathway, so I looked on the website and found the degrees I could get after I completed the program,” Jackman says. “One of the dozen or so bachelor’s degrees they offer is health care administration. I was overcome by the Spirit and I knew that I had been completely led step by step. I remember just where I was sitting and the spirit I felt. I knew that was what I was supposed to do, without any doubt.”

Pathway to success

Though Pathway is not a degree-granting program, it’s designed to help students work toward educational and vocational success. Many Pathway students in the United States go on to matriculate in BYU-Idaho’s online degree program, like Jackman plans to do. Some go on to other universities or trade schools. Some students — especially in other countries — use the skills they learn in Pathway to qualify for promotions or for a better job.

Pathway is a year-long program where students earn 15 credits.

Pathway has served 24,357 students in its five years of existence. It operates in 227 sites — 133 in the U.S. and Canada and 94 international. Interestingly, the three largest Pathway sites are all in Utah—the largest in Ogden with 424 students, the second-largest in Orem with 352 and third-largest in Sandy with 275.

“When we went into Utah, I didn’t necessarily think it would be as successful,” said Andy Cargal, communication manager for Pathway. “It’s right in BYU’s backyard. I asked myself, ‘Are there really that many people who could benefit from this?’ I was really surprised to see how big the interest was. It was fun to see that. It’s really awesome to see people light up when they realize that this is the answer they’ve always wanted and hoped for — a way they can fulfill the goal they’ve always had and haven’t been able to find a way to accomplish.”

operating sites
Pathway operates in 227 sites around the world. (Image courtesy Pathway)

Breaking down barriers

Pathway is designed for students like Rachel. In the earliest stages of its development, Cargal said, program administrators identified four major roadblocks many individuals (like Jackman) faced: cost, difficult college admission standards, time, and fear.

“Pathway was built to create direct solutions to help bridge those barriers and help people get started,” Cargal says. “Our target is those individuals who are passing the opportunity by because they don’t think they can do it.”

At $65 per credit, Pathway’s tuition is less than half of BYU-Idaho’s on-campus rate, which is already significantly lower than average. Students who obtain at least a B average during Pathway are eligible to further their education through the BYU-Idaho Online Degree Program at the same low tuition rate. Age and prior education are non-issues in the online environment, and weekly gatherings provide a strong support system for all Pathway students.

How it works

While Pathway is administered on a high level from BYU-Idaho, where many course instructors and support for the program are located, much of the administration happens locally through LDS Church units. Local priesthood leaders (Area Seventies and stake presidents) apply to have Pathway in their area, and if there’s enough interest to merit a new Pathway site, stake presidents are then responsible for calling service missionaries to support Pathway students.

“Many priesthood leaders want Pathway because they see it as a key tool they can use in their ministry,” Cargal says, “one more thing to try to help people, which is what they’re called to do. They request Pathway and call the missionaries. They take a vested interest in it. The more interested the priesthood leaders in an area are, the more students will typically be enrolled.”

Missionaries facilitate weekly gatherings — always on Thursday nights — for Pathway students to meet together and participate in additional educational activities, ask questions, and socialize and support each other in their educational pursuits. These gatherings help students feel less isolated in their largely individual online courses.

“At the gathering every Thursday, we each take a turn teaching what we learned in class that week,” Jackman says. “You get up and talk about what you’ve been learning, then you get in groups and do activities. It’s just another way we can get our hearts touched at a different level.”

The way the courses are set up also allows students to collaborate in an online environment. Instructors are available via email and work to help the students be successful any way they can.

“My religion teacher [John Sossum] just goes out of his way,” Jackman says. “He comments on our posts online and shares things he’s realized or things that he thinks would be good for us to hear. My other instructor is really good too. They both respond when you need to get a hold of them and give you their phone numbers so you can ask questions. It’s so important that you know your instructor actually cares and wants to teach you. If you didn’t have that, something really big would be missing.”

Fulfillment of prophesy

The Pathway program has grown faster and spread further than anyone initially anticipated.

“When Pathway first started, I remember asking the question, ‘How fast do you anticipate Pathway growing?” Cargal says. “They said about 10 new sites per year. That was in 2009. As of this fall, we have 227 operating sites, 297 with approved sites. If we were only doing 10 per year we’d only have 50 by now.”

Many people involved with the program attribute that growth to a divine purpose. President Henry B. Eyring, then president of Ricks College, foresaw something like Pathway in the future of the college. When he came to campus as president in 1971, nothing like the Internet was even imaginable by most of the 5,150 students attending Ricks College at the time. But even so, Eyring stated the following:

“We must also find ways for this college to serve young people whose needs are shaped by a great variety of cultures and situations, and who may not be able to come to this campus. … We will find direct ways to move the blessings of education … from this campus out into the lives of men and women everywhere.”

Later, in 1998, David A. Bednar came to Rexburg as college president. His words were reminiscent of Eyring’s:

“It will be necessary for us … to serve ever better the thousands of students we have on campus while simultaneously reaching out to bless the lives of tens of thousands of young Latter-day Saints throughout the world,” Bednar said. “We must learn to assist and bless institute students and other LDS youth in Rhode Island and Rome while effectively serving our students on campus in Rexburg.”

Today Pathway serves 42 students in Rhode Island and 50 in Rome. BYU-Idaho serves 16,193 students on campus in Rexburg.

Pathway to the future

As the number of students in Pathway has increased steadily over the last five years, so has the number of students who are going on to receive degrees or succeed professionally.

In 2009 — Pathway’s first year — 50 students enrolled in the program. Twelve percent — six students — matriculated and enrolled in the BYU-Idaho online degree program. The next year, 162 students enrolled in Pathway and 45 past Pathway students matriculated. Today, 4,518 past Pathway students are pursuing online degrees from BYU-Idaho.

In some countries, a bachelor’s degree from an American university isn’t necessarily the most productive step toward success for Pathway students. In those cases, Pathway provides students with the life skills they need to succeed in whatever way suits them best.

“We have a lot of students who do other things, especially internationally,” Cargal says. “A degree might not help them. Ghana is one example. Priesthood leaders from there have told us that people say they want a bachelor’s degree, but that isn’t what’s really going to benefit them there. So they’ll go out after the one year with the skills and confidence they need to get a better job, or go to trade school, or get promotions, or attend local universities. Pathway is a bridge to help people find their paths. The BYU-Idaho Online Degree Program is just one of the paths.”

Moving forward

Rachel Jackman will finish Pathway in 2015. After that, she will matriculate in the BYU-Idaho health care administration program, graduating with a bachelor’s degree without ever needing to leave her kids with a babysitter.

Even better, her husband will be done with sheet metal work forever. Thanks to the Pathway program, he has options too. He will begin the Pathway program next semester, matriculate in computer information technology and find a more steady job in the technology industry.

“Both of our degrees are projected to grow 22 percent in upcoming years,” Jackman says. “It was really neat how all of this happened. It’s changing our lives. I think it’s going to help our marriage because we’re both going to be reading the Book of Mormon for one of our classes. Sometimes you need a bigger reason to get you to do something. There are just so many blessings that come out of the program.”

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