04 December 2012

Q&A with the President's Council at Southern Virginia

I've been trying to find statements by Elder Sybrowski since his becoming the president of Southern Virginia University to get a feel for the kind of president he will be and his priorities, but the one time he was scheduled to speak at one of the weekly devotionals just happens to be a devotional that wasn't posted on their website. Hopefully that will be remedied in the future. In the mean time, I recently discovered that on 17 April 2012, the President's Council at Southern Virginia University had a Q&A session with students. The audio is available on the SVU Blog "The Scoop" at the following link:


This is a rare opportunity for those of us who are not at SVU to hear the then president-elect speak of his vision for Southern Virginia. Below are some notes I took from the discussion found during minutes 8 - 23.


Tyler McKay asks if there is going to be a general theme for the upcoming year. President-Elect Sybrowski replies that the theme should be the student's theme, "because that's what a leader-servant is" but then goes on to speak of his vision for SVU.

[Southern Virginia University] is the future of educating Zion. This model is the future of educating Zion.

For educating Zion this [BYU] model that the Church has embraced, has embarked upon is not the model of the future.

There won't be more BYU's There won't be a BYU of the East. At least it's not planned right now. The prophets can do whatever prophets want to do and we will sustain whatever they do. But in today's environment the vision of the Brethren in educating Zion is that they are doing what they are going to do in educating Zion.

The vision that we have is to create this as the model for educating the members of the Church and non-members of the Church, not only in North America, but where appropriately throughout the world.

It's incumbent upon everybody here, the students and we who sit here in front of you to get this model right so that this model is replicable and sustainable

We've got another year or two to do that. We're that close, and being that close we're really quite excited. But lest you think we're planning for more Southern Virginia's in other areas, we're not. There will come a time for that. Our focus, diligent focus is here and now on this campus.

We have a sacred responsibility to become self-reliant.

Now that's number one.

Physical Facilities.
We are actively seeking donors for new physical facilities.
We also need to and have a responsibility to fix-up our current facilities.

Raise Professorship Money
We need to create an environment where the consecrated service can still be consecrated, but the sacrifice doesn't cut so near to the bone.
We need to endow scholarships so they are self-sustaining. Scholarships off-set part of the cost of the education, and we need you to give back to the institution.

Follow-up Question

What can we students do?

1. Live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Bear witness that He is the Christ, and look for opportunities to do that. We are that spirit and need that spirit.

2. Study, do well, and graduate so you can do well in society. Keep the commandments. Marry well and pursue the goals Heavenly Father has for us.

3. Set up organizations to clean up current facilities. Start with your own living space, and then help out with other places on campus.

4. Do those things, and then there will come a time in your life when you are in a position to do what you can for the institution. My recommendation is you ought to do it.

Acting President Whitehead added:

5. Tell a friend and have them come back with you next year.


The priorities outlined in the foregoing vision of President Sybrowski can definitely be seen in the new funding campaign for Southern Virginia University. True to the university's mission statement, President Sybrowski appears committed to a model that can be reproduced for the benefit of Latter-day Saints in other parts of the world, which has always been a personal passion of mine.

However, what most impresses me about his answers is his sincerity. He wasn't making a prepared statement. Listening to him I really did get a sense of his commitment to the Gospel. Not just his commitment, but also his conviction that the most important thing students can do to help Southern Virginia is to live the Gospel.

The meeting was mostly business, and addressed concerns of students, but the section identified above would be worth listening to for anyone interested in LDS education in general, and the future of Southern Virginia in particular.

26 November 2012

Spotlight on Southern Virginia University

Over the past couple of years Southern Virginia University (SVU), has witnessed many changes that merit mentioning, so this post will attempt to catch the reader up with some of the most important. As was mentioned in an earlier post, SVU is perhaps the premier LDS institution of higher learning that is not actually owned and operated by the Church, and it's the only one with a full bachelor degree program. Southern Virginia had a shaky start back in 1996, when control of the board of trustees of what was then Southern Virginia College, was transferred to a group of LDS academics and professionals who had a vision of building an LDS university on the East Coast. The school opened under new leadership with a new LDS-oriented mission. That year they were able to recruit about 70 students. Ten years later they had over 700.

Despite the rapid expansion and early enthusiasm for the school, there have been many challenges. The original school was acquired because of falling enrollment and mounting debt. The new board had to assume the debt of the previous administration, but the thought was that the accreditation of the old school would carry over with the debt, allowing students to qualify for Federal student aid. Unfortunately that was not the case.

After several years of uncertainty, SVU acquired candidacy for National Accreditation through the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) in 2000, and full accreditation in 2003. This step allowed students at the school to qualify for Federal aid in the form of grants and loans. Some students were still uncertain about the value of the education because of the lack of regional accreditation, which was more prestigious and made transfers to other schools easier. The goal of the new administration was clear: obtain regional accreditation.

The efforts of two individuals in building the foundation probably cannot be stressed enough. President Rodney K. Smith and Provost Paul S. Edwards really set SVU on the path toward financial stability and regional accreditation. They were also instrumental in building a sense of campus community by always having an open door to welcome students, instituting weekly devotionals, and wearing the school colors proudly. Though proud of the rapid growth, these two leaders, as well as members of the Board of Trustees, knew that SVU had to put just as much or more focus inward toward improving the institution, as they did outward toward attracting students. Students were coming, but the attrition rate was high, with fewer than a third of incoming freshmen staying to graduate. While the first ten years saw a ten-fold growth in attendance, over the next five years the expansion of the student body appeared to have plateaued. Fall enrollment in 2010 was 777 (including both full- and part-time students).

While this may seem like SVU was losing momentum, the slower growth actually allowed the school to build a stronger foundation for the future. New student dorms were built after relying for years almost exclusively on the infrastructure built under the non-LDS leadership or on modular housing. Other buildings were also renovated and improved. The sense of mission on campus both among students, faculty, and administration has grown. And the school achieved its goal of regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Having accomplished what may be the most significant event of their administration, both Provost Edwards and President Smith have moved on to other opportunities. In late 2010, Edwards left to become the new editorial page editor at Deseret News. Then in early 2011 it was announced that President Smith would leave to head the new Center for Sports Law and Policy at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, CA. This led to a period of transition at Southern Virginia. Provost Edwards was replaced by Dr. Madison Sowell, who had previously served on the Board of Trustees, serving first as interim provost, and then stepping down from his board position to take a permanent position. Richard Whitehead became the Acting President, while a search for a new permanent president was conducted. Earlier this last year it was announced that Paul K. Sybrowsky would relieve Whitehead as the new President, beginning 01 June 2012.

With new leadership in place, Southern Virginia is now ready for the next phase of its growth and development. Exciting times lie ahead.

08 October 2012

New Policy on Missionary Age

As everyone has probably heard by now, at the Saturday Morning Session of General Conference, President Monson announced the minimum age for missionary service is now 18 for Elders, and 19 for Sisters. I want to examine briefly how this could potentially impact LDS higher education.

The most obvious effect of the change in policy is that more missionaries will in fact begin their missions at a younger age. Though President Monson didn't say the lower age requirement was meant to be a new standard, as soon as the announcement was made, my sister immediately started discussing whether or not her son should leave earlier on his mission. My nephew is 18 now, and was not planning on leaving until next August when he turns 19, but now he will probably finish out his first year at school and leave in May or June. Had this rule been in effect before he started college, he probably wouldn't have bothered getting a year of school in before his mission (as would have also been the case with myself). I imagine most young men will feel similarly, and as 19 was effectively the standard start age before, 18 will probably be the standard starting age in the future though as President Monson emphasized, this need not be the case for everyone. While we've always had a large contingent of missionaries that went on their missions straight out of high school, I feel like a significant percentage, if not a majority, had attended school for at least a semester before leaving on their missions, just because their birthdays prevented them from serving sooner. (Based on BYU's one-year retention rate, shown below, one might conclude that in fact only 15% of BYU students leave to serve missions after their Freshman year, or roughly 30% of men, meaning closer to 70% go straight out of high school, but this number sounds too high to me, so I need to research more closely how this number is measured before I draw that conclusion.) With a lower age requirement, this will probably become more rare, meaning most missionaries will not begin college until after their mission.

So what will be the effect on LDS higher education? I can imagine several areas where it could have an impact. The first might actually be an increased demand for education at the Church schools. Though I only have anecdotal evidence, my experience has been that there is a greater desire to attend one of the Church schools after a mission than there was before. This was the case with many of my mission companions, who attended community colleges near home (or even prestigious schools like the University of Utah) before their missions, but tried to transfer to BYU after their return because that is where so many of their mission friends were going. Of course many did not want to go through the hassle of transferring to a new school upon their return. If however, they had that interaction with other missionaries that seems to inspire so many to want to attend the Church schools, before they began their education anywhere, it is possible that the Church schools would have been higher on their radar. We might even get more missionaries out of the process, as some young men who wanted to serve missions lose focus during their first year of college, and these added return missionaries would also be more likely to want to attend Church schools. The effect may only be marginal, but even a marginal effect can put a great amount of pressure on the Church system to make room for more students.

The reverse could also be true. Many members prefer the Church schools because they know it will be easy to defer for two years without applying for readmission. Not needing to take a two-year break in the middle of school may encourage many to attend non-LDS schools that would have otherwise brought complications. However, I believe this potential effect will be minimal, leading to a net increase in demand for Church schools. If that demand is not met by the Church institutions through increased capacity, that would definitely play well for schools like Southern Virginia University or the Desert Valley Academy, trying to capture that excess demand. It could also increase the perceived exclusivity of the Church schools, by increasing admission applications, and thereby lowering the acceptance rate (a factor in the US News and World Report rankings).

More than the increased demand however, the area where I expect the change in age requirements to have the biggest impact is in the 6-year graduation rates for the Church schools. While a bachelor degree theoretically only takes four years to complete, it is no secret in higher education that students frequently take longer to finish their degrees. For this reason, the Department of Education tracks four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates. This figure features prominently in the US News and World Report rankings, counting it for 80 percent of the retention score, which is in turn 20 percent of the score for National Universities (of which BYU-Provo is one) and 25 percent of the score for Regional Colleges (which is where BYU-Hawaii and BYU-Idaho fall). The other 20 percent of the retention score is the freshmen retention rate. A significant improvement in the graduation rates could bring all of the Church schools up in their ranking. BYU's six-year graduation rate, while fairly decent, has long been hampered by two effects: woman dropping out of school after getting married, and men taking longer than six years to graduate. While the change in the minimum missionary age will have little direct effect on the former factor, the age change could substantially affect the latter.

For example, it is not uncommon for a student to need an extra semester to graduate due to missing a prerequisite for a class, especially in some of the more structured majors, where one class leads to another. At a normal university, a student taking an extra semester to graduate may hurt the four-year graduation rate, but it does not affect the six-year rate, which is what the US News and World Report ranking takes into consideration. If however that same student also takes two years off in the middle of their schooling (as is the case with the elders), then the extra semester puts them over the six-year mark. Even without needing an extra semester to get the right prerequisites, for many missionaries the timing of the call would also frequently cause them to miss a semester (as was the case with myself--I attended school for a year, left for my mission in October because of a September birthday, and two years later I came home too late to enter for the fall semester, so I lost a semester without experiencing the prerequisite problem). Multiply this by the number of return missionaries at a school like BYU, and this can have a significant impact on the school's six-year graduation rate and potentially its ranking. If however, the clock doesn't start until after one's mission, as I expect will become more the norm at the Church schools with this new policy in place, then an extra semester will not affect the schools ranking as most missionaries won't matriculate until after their missions. We may be able to see some marginal increase in the ranking of the Church schools as an effect.

Of course the reverse may be true of sister missionaries. Though traditionally some sisters have interrupted school to serve, just as often it seems they finish school before serving, both because of the timing of a birthday, and the decreased urgency of serving a mission. If sisters start opting to leave for their missions at the younger age, those who had previously been finishing school before their missions may not be able to. Add to that the fact that more sisters may serve as a result of their lower age requirements, as I suspect will be the case with marriage not being as likely at this younger age, and we will have even more woman interrupting their schooling, which will put negative pressure on the six-year graduation rate. Overall however, I expect the net effect will be positive, as we will probably still see fewer sisters than elders serving overall, and as sisters only serve for 18 months, a lost semester is less likely to put them over the mark as two years does for men.

Obviously it will be some time before we will know the full effect of the change at the Church schools (and for that matter at other schools with a large LDS presence). For now, here are the graduation and retention rates at the three ranked Church schools, as well as some of their peers in the US News and World Report rankings, and Harvard as a reference for what the scores look like at the top of the list.

US News and World Report Rank Four-Year Graduation Rate Five-Year Graduation Rate Six-Year Graduation Rate Full-Time Student First-Year Retention Rate Part-Time Student First-Year Retention Rate
Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) Ranked #1 National Universities 87 96 97 98 N/A
Brigham Young University--Provo (Provo, UT) Ranked #68 National Universities 31 54 78 85 53
Clemson University (Clemson, SC) Ranked #68 National Universities 50 72 76 89 59
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey--New Brunswick (Piscataway, NJ) Ranked #68 National Universities 53 70 77 91 56
University of Minnesota--Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN) Ranked #68 National Universities 46 66 70 89 60
Howard Payne University (Brownwood, TX) Ranked #13 Regional Colleges West 22 35 39 67 17
Menlo College (Atherton, CA) Ranked #13 Regional Colleges West 29 33 33 71 0
Northwest University (Kirkland, WA) Ranked #13 Regional Colleges West 44 54 55 70 25
Brigham Young University--Idaho (Rexburg, ID) Ranked #16 Regional Colleges West 25 41 55 71 55
Brigham Young University--Hawaii (Laie Oahu, HI) Ranked #17 Regional Colleges West 28 45 56 58 17
East Texas Baptist University (Marshall, TX) Ranked #17 Regional Colleges West 27 33 36 64 0
University of Montana - Western (Dillon, MT) Ranked #17 Regional Colleges West 18 24 29 68 75

Above data came from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

22 September 2012

CES Firesides

Well, it has been a long time since I've posted anything. Sorry to any regular readers. (I don't expect there are any as I haven't posted in over two years.) A lot has changed in the field of Latter-day Saint (LDS) Education since my last post, but a lot has also stayed the same. This is kind of my relaunch for the blog. I hope to be able to update this blog regularly to discuss some of those changes as well as to post new information as it becomes available.

For today, I want to take a look at what I consider to be an interesting trend. Two weeks ago, on  9 September 2012, Elder Holland gave the CES Fireside from Dixie State College. It was a great talk and worth listening to, but what I want to focus on is not the substance of the talk, but the location from which it was given.

For those who don't know, the CES Firesides (CES = Church Education System) are a series of talks put on by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several times a year, aimed primarily at young single adults (YSA) aged 18-30, but college students of any age and marital status are also encouraged to attend. The speakers are almost always chosen from the top leadership of the Church. Frequently, the speaker is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but they also include members of the Quorums of the Seventy, or an auxiliary leader such as the General Relief Society President. The specific topics vary, but most talks touch on a similar theme: i.e. that our college years are a pivotal time in our lives in which the decisions we make (especially the decision of who we marry) can set our path for eternity. It's definitely a message that the Church wants every YSA to hear.

The Church used to sponsor six firesides a year, but lowered that number to five in 2003, which is where it has stayed ever since. The firesides are translated into a dozen or so languages and broadcast to Church buildings all over the world. They can also be viewed online, so the location of the speaker when the fireside is actually given doesn't matter that much, but as one can imagine, the Church likes to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see these live. This is especially true when one considers how large the Church is and how rare it is to see one of the top Church leaders in one's lifetime. Even Brigham Young University (BYU) students, who would appear to be spoiled with the frequency with which they have Church leaders visit to give devotional addresses, for the most part leave Utah after they graduate, at which point their opportunities to see Church leaders in person will diminish greatly. So the Church chooses to broadcast these firesides from those locations where the largest number of LDS students can benefit. As the Church's flagship institution, BYU is clearly at the top of that list, but as Elder Holland's address two weeks ago demonstrates, there are several other locations that also have large numbers of LDS students.

Though this blog is primarily concerned with identifying LDS educational institutions, it is interested to note the interplay between the Church and secular institutions. For many years, the Church has run Seminary and Institute programs as a way of supplementing the secular education available at public schools and most private universities. (Seminary is for secondary school students and Institute is for students in higher education.) Seminaries and Institutes definitely constitute an area worth examining in LDS Education. It is partly to supplement the instruction one gets from the Institute programs that the Church sponsors the CES Firesides, so it is only natural that in choosing a location from which to broadcast, the Church has occasionally done so from its own Institute buildings. To see how common this practice is, I went back and looked up the location for every CES Fireside from 2001 to the present. The findings are below.

BYU (Provo, UT) 42 68.85%
BYU-Idaho (including one time as Ricks College; Rexburg, ID) 3 4.92%
LDS Conference Center (Salt Lake City, UT) 3 4.92%
Ogden Institute of Religion (Ogden, UT) 2 3.28%
University of Utah Institute of Religion (Salt Lake City, UT) 2 3.28%
BYU-Hawaii (Laie, HI) 1 1.64%
Dixie State College (St. George, UT) 1 1.64%
Mesa, Arizona 1 1.64%
Moscow, Idaho 1 1.64%
Oakland, California 1 1.64%
Pocatello Institute of Religion (Pocatello, ID) 1 1.64%
Salt Lake Tabernacle (Salt Lake City, UT) 1 1.64%
The Mormon Center (Sacramento, CA) 1 1.64%
Utah State University (Logan, UT) 1 1.64%
Total 61 100.00%

Of the 61 CES firesides examined, it is not surprising that 42 were broadcast from BYU in Provo, UT. If one combines the three Salt Lake locations (University of Utah, the Conference Center, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle) Salt Lake City easily becomes the second most common location with 6 CES firesides. Anyone familiar with LDS demographics would not be surprised by the other locations being spread out through the western United States. Though several firesides do not appear to have been broadcast from specific universities (or Institute buildings associated with specific universities), it appears the most likely target live audience included students at nearby state schools with a large number of LDS students such as Weber State University, Arizona State University, University of Idaho, and Idaho State University. The two California locations have no single university with an obviously large LDS student body, but each location is close to several large schools such as the University of California-Berkeley, University of California-San Francisco, California State University-East BayCalifornia State University-Sacramento, and University of California-Davis. Combined these schools probably boast a respectably sized LDS student body, which may not be on par with the enrollment at state schools inside the Mormon corridor (Utah, Idaho, and Arizona), but which are sizable nonetheless.

The current trend will probably continue for the foreseeable future, with the majority of CES Firesides being broadcast from BYU, with occasional visits to other pockets of LDS students in the western United States. Other cities likely to host a fireside based on the number of LDS students could include Las Vegas, NV; Seattle, WA; or Los Angeles, CA. The East Coast is a less-likely location. Thriving Latter-day Saint YSA communities do exist in New York, NY and Washington, DC, though these consist more of young professionals and graduate students than of the undergraduates that typically make up the target audience for these firesides. As it grows, Southern Virginia University might also be a possible location in the future. With that, I hope everyone looks forward to the next fireside in November, scheduled to be given by Bishop Gérald Caussé. I'll update when I know the location.