BYU-Pathway Worldwide experienced tremendous growth in 2020, which inspired the organization’s goals for 2021.
In describing his family’s journey through the wilderness, Nephi said, “And we did travel and wade through much affliction.” Yet, in the very next verse, he marvels at the great blessings the Lord placed upon them.
Nephi’s experience feels a lot like our current circumstances. We are living in a time unlike any other. 2020 has been one of unprecedented worldwide challenges. And yet I find myself marveling at the many blessings the Lord has provided for His children, particularly through BYU-Pathway Worldwide.
I mentioned to our students in my fall devotional that since its creation, BYU-Pathway has generated considerable attention both in the Church and across the higher education landscape. In the Church, BYU-Pathway has stirred the hopes of those who thought education was beyond their reach. In higher education, observers have looked at the program’s affordability, its dramatic growth, and the high completion rates of our students as patterns to emulate.
But to really understand why our students succeed, we must remember by whom we are led. Recall the Lord’s instruction to Nephi as he prepared for his journey: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you … [Y]e shall be led toward the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that you are led.”
As COVID-19 moved from menacing headlines to a life-altering pandemic, it became clear that the Lord had been preparing BYU-Pathway to play a unique role in these difficult times. It is a “light in the wilderness” that has allowed us to turn unprecedented challenges into new growth and unforeseen opportunities.
BYU-Pathway is designed to operate everywhere the Church is organized. A major step forward in this effort was launching virtual gatherings in our PathwayConnect program after several years of piloting. The original intent was to offer the ability to gather online in areas where in-person gathering was not possible. The system was thankfully designed in a way that, and when meeting in person became impossible because of COVID-19, we were able to seamlessly and quickly move all cohorts to a virtual format. Our dedicated team of more than 2,400 service missionaries, who were trained in a matter of weeks, made this transition possible.
A longtime goal of BYU-Pathway has been to support full-time missionaries as they return home. In 2019, we partnered with the Missionary Department to pre-approve all returning missionaries for admission, including early release and service missionaries. When the pandemic hit and thousands of missionaries unexpectedly returned home, we began offering a 25% tuition scholarship to all returned missionaries who enrolled in PathwayConnect. Returned missionary enrollment in PathwayConnect increased by 78% from the year before. BYU-Pathway is now serving roughly 10% of all individuals who returned from a mission between August 2018 and July 2019.
Finally, 2020 marks a remarkable milestone in that BYU-Pathway has served a record 51,583 students — a number we scarcely imagined a decade ago when we started with just 50 students. I know that it is by the Lord that we are led. He has been our light and has been preparing the way for us to serve and succeed even in the most challenging of times. Brothers and sisters, you are part of that light. We could not serve the students that we do without your consistent and generous support. Thank you for being part of this great work as we move forward on the path the Lord has prepared.
1 1 Nephi 17:1–2
2 1 Nephi 17:13
3 Clark G. Gilbert, “By Whom We are Led” (BYU-Pathway Worldwide devotional, September 22, 2020), byupathway.org/speeches