Religion and Higher Education

Tuesday, May 30, 2023 - Even as higher education in America has its roots in religion, over the centuries it's drifted away from those beginnings. And yet, as our guest informs us, enrollment at religious higher ed institutions has actually risen over the past 20 years, as these institutions serve as havens for young people looking for belonging. Jeff and Michael discuss the role of religion in higher education with Clark Gilbert, Commissioner of Education of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and hear him delve into the unique value that schools like these present to tackle some of the central challenges facing higher education, such as accessibility, affordability, and value. This episode is made possible with support from Ascendium Education Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Course Hero

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Michael Horn:

Jeff, it seems as though there are a whole set of religious colleges and universities that are really struggling in America right now. In some cases, that struggles around making ends meet and sustaining themselves. In other cases, they've been wrestling with thorny questions over whether to maintain that religious identity at all and just what that identity really means for their operations and mission.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, that's true Michael. By the same token, religion and higher education have a deep history together in this country. Our guest this week on Future U argues that religion actually can be a source of strength for many colleges in the future as well.


This episode is brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working to eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success through innovation, data and information, policy and institutional transformation. This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. For more information, visit

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Jeff Selingo:

I'm Jeff Selingo.

Michael Horn:

And I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

As I said at the outset, Michael, religion and higher education in the United States have an intertwined history. The nation's top colleges and universities actually started off as religious institutions, yet most, if not all, have moved beyond those origins over the centuries. But with that said, religious institutions, be it the Jesuit ones we featured last season on Future U or those trained clergy members, they remain an important segment of the higher education landscape.

Michael Horn:

That's true, Jeff. Given the challenges religious institutions have also experienced, we wanted to understand more deeply what the future at the nexus of religion and higher education might look like and if religion might actually hold the key in some cases to creating a more sustainable and valuable higher education experience. So, our guest on Future U to help us think through the role of religion in higher education is Clark Gilbert.

Clark has had a fascinating career. He was a doctoral student of Clay Christensen's at the Harvard Business School. He served as the CEO of a newspaper and media company, the Deseret News, which he dramatically turned around, and he served as president of two colleges, BYU Idaho, and BYU Pathway Worldwide. He serves currently as the Commissioner of the Church Educational System for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jeff Selingo:

Clark, it's great to see you again. Thanks for joining us on Future U.

Clark Gilbert:

Thank you. I'm so glad to be with both of you.

Jeff Selingo:

Clark, it's great to see you again. You recently helped produce an entire special issue of the Deseret Magazine called Dare to Be Different. The cover had the headline, the Fate of the Religious University. We'll link to the issue in our show notes, but where I want to start is this. Michael and I talk often on this podcast about what Northeastern University President Joe Aoun said to us that higher education is diverse but not differentiated.

In your essay, you argue that not only can religion be a source of differentiation, but also of innovation, that holding religion central can help us address some of the most vexing problems in higher ed today, social mobility and access, completion and affordability, the iron triangle, if you will, of higher ed. You have plenty of examples from the institutions you oversee, BYU Idaho, BYU Hawaii, BYU Pathway Worldwide. So, can you tell us a little bit more about how religion is central to these efforts?

Clark Gilbert:

Thank you, Jeff. It's an important time for innovation in higher education and old models aren't working. Student outcomes are under increasing scrutiny. I think there's an imperative out there regardless of affiliation for universities to be more innovative and be more student focused. For us, that's not just a societal phenomenon, but it comes back to our very purpose as religious schools and our missions as religious schools. So, take affordability as one of the first themes you brought up. We have over 150,000 higher education students in our system. Our flagship is BYU. The average GPA to get admitted into BYU practically makes this a school full of national merit scholars with 3.9 and 4.0 students.

Turns out that that's great for people like me and my children who are third, fourth, fifth generation college students, but if you've never been to college, you can't afford college. You don't have peers around you with that experience. Of course, we like all educators think about that and worry about that, but for a religious institution, we also have a deeper motivation. I say to people all the time, you can't have BYU be your only answer to your system because the church is a lot more complex and diverse than fifth generation college students from upper quartile income families. You've got to have means and ways for them to get accessible education. I look at BYU and I love BYU. I'm an alum of BYU and a lot of my focus goes there.

But as a church, the answer can't be we serve the privileged, the wealthy, and people with access, right? It's problematic for any higher education institution, but it's even more problematic for a church who believes it's founded on the ideals of Jesus Christ and love for man and care for our brothers and sisters. So, when we look at the innovation imperative, we don't even look at it through the academic lens first. We look at it through our religious mission. We say we have a religious imperative to find ways to make education more affordable, more accessible, and help people who are struggling complete.

So, on top of all of our academic training, there's another motivation, an off-balance sheet metric that's driving us that for us is even more motivating than I want to be an effective and innovative higher education administrator.

Jeff Selingo:

How does the affordability mission manifest itself day to day at any of the BYU campuses? Because I think you're right. I think religious institutions, writ large and higher ed, have always had access central to their mission, but I would also argue that a lot of them have lost their way on at least that part of the mission. We'll talk later about other parts of the mission. So, how do you focus on affordability in particular?

Clark Gilbert:

Let me give you three examples. The first is the church is very generous in its funding of our higher education institutions. This isn't new to me saying this Elder David A. Bednar, former president of BYU Idaho, now one of the church's 12 apostles at the National Press Club in DC recently said that the church is spending about a billion dollars a year on higher education support. So, we are very well-supported by the church, but that's not affordability. That's just funding. I had a university president once say, "We are so committed to affordability. We're going to raise a $2 billion endowment to fund underprivileged students." I'm like, "Well, why don't you just fix your cost structure?"

So yes, the church does support, subsidizes our students in generous ways and it shows education is a priority to the church, but we also have to have innovation on the cost model itself. We're a worldwide church with members in 180+ countries all over the world. We can't have a high cost, campus heavy, research focused, expensive model to go to everyone. So, we have BYU as our flagship school. We do research. We have a college athletics program and a football team, graduate schools and many of the trappings of a traditional university. When we created BYU Idaho, we said, "We are going to strip everything out of this university other than things that directly focus on student learning and student gains."

So no college athletics, no graduate schools, no research. BYU Idaho works on a year-round calendar where students are admitted fall, summer, summer, spring or spring fall. That gives us a 50% increase in the utilization of the faculty and of the campus. When BYU Idaho was created in 2000 by the church, it was built on top of a community college. All of these constraints were formally written into its constitution. Over the ensuing 20 years, we've tripled enrollment, but the operating costs, again, not the tuition price or the net subsidy costs, but the actual direct cost, total cost of running that institution have grown below inflation. That means we've tripled the size of BYU Idaho while reducing its inflation adjusted cost of operation.

People are like, "How on the world is that possible?" On the one hand, it's very simple. Variable tuition has exceeded variable costs, but the deeper answer to that is year-round calendar, teaching focus contract, no other investments other than teaching and no graduate programs, no college sports. Everything goes into the student. Even the deeper motivation for that is why would faculty sign up for that? The answer comes back to religious mission. This is a really central part of BYU Idaho's mission is we recruit people who unambiguously want to make their careers and their professional focus all around students. We find that one of the ways we get there is that people identify and come because of the mission of that institution.

So, religion mission motivated the innovation on cost, and it also drew people to the institution who might not have come otherwise. So, religious mission, yes, we have innovative practices, but the motivation and the eventual staffing are strengthened because of the religious imperative.

Michael Horn:

Clark, that I think helps address where I'm going with this next question. As you know, there are some skeptics out there. Some look at folks like yourself and your background, turning around a newspaper in a media enterprise, which not easy these days. You've got Kim Clark, the former Dean of HBS and then the President of BYU Idaho; Steve Wheelwright, another renowned HBS professor and then president of BYU Hawaii. You have Henry Eyring at BYU Idaho. The list goes on. So, my apologies to those I'm not mentioning, but skeptics look at you and this group and say something like, "Well, what they all have in common is they're really good leaders and really good managers." So maybe it's not religion that's the story here. What's your response?

Clark Gilbert:

It's a great question. In fact, someone said, "Well, you got talented people." The other argument, Michael, I hear is you have good governance. So, that's an advantage the other schools don't have. I think my first response is, well, wait a second. Why did Kim Clark leave the Harvard Business School in the first place? I was talking to the president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Ari Berman, and he is like, "We're going to start using the Kim Clark recruiting strategy. We're going to tell all of our Jewish diaspora, your people need you." He is like, "That's what your church did with Kim Clark. Your people need you."

I often joke, one of our vice presidents of BYU Pathway was the Chief Innovation Officer of one of the Silicon Slopes firms here in the valley and very well paid. We said to him when we recruited him, "Matt, we will match your salary, all but the seventh digit." So yes, we have great people, talented, well-organized, innovative thinkers, but why do they come to these institutions? That answer can only be explained because of the religious mission. So, my first response, Michael, is the reason these people will come, give their time and their talents and their energy and their whole life to this. I left the Harvard Business School and my career for a mid-level administrative role at BYU Idaho.

There was no other reason other than a sense of religious duty and a sense of calling, but that's not the only explanation. So, the religious mission draws people in for a deeper sense of purpose. That's part of it, but the other one is governance. When I was asked this question and someone said, "You just have good governance," this was a senior editor and he is like, "Okay, this is good. BYU Idaho's innovative. BYU Pathways is reaching people who would never go to college. But the reason that's happening in your system is you have clear governance." Again, my answer is, but why would faculty and staff seed so much control of the mission and strategy and design of the university to the church if they didn't also believe in the religious mission?

So yeah, I do think we have good governance and I do think we have wonderfully committed, innovative, talented people, but the reason that happens is because of the mission. Of course, a secular audience wouldn't agree with this, but I was talking to an administrator in the Department of Education. He was looking at why our retention rate at BYU Pathways is so high. We have a completion rate of four points above the national average serving a student profile that's riskier than a community college. He is like, "How do you do it?" He wanted to know our mentoring programs and our risk algorithm for intervention. I went through all of that.

But at the end of the conversation, I said, "Look, these students have been told their whole life they're not college material, they can never make it. We come and teach them they are sons and daughters of God with divine potential and they can ask for heaven's help. So, yeah, we're doing things that you would hope good universities would do, but we're also drawing on retention strategies that teach people their inherent worth. Religion helps with that. It's not a facilitator for us. It's the whole point and purpose of what we do."

Michael Horn:

So in addition to yourself on this topic, you have articles by or with some really serious thinkers in the magazine about the importance of religion. You've got Jonathan Haidt. You've got David Brooks, Anne Snyder, Pete Weiner, Freeman Hrabowski, many more. There are several themes that I thought we might explore from those essays starting with this one, which is there's a theme of the gradual secularization of higher ed in this country. You write about how it wasn't initially hostility between the secular and the faith-based missions that caused that move away, but more just drift.

But over time, I think it's fair to say that in many quarters, it has become hostility and there's this tension of faith versus reason in scholarship and teaching. Yet you, Jon Haidt, and others in the issue argue that faith is actually central to being a good academic researcher. Can you say more about that?

Clark Gilbert:

Yeah, I love this question. By the way, I push our own scholars to think deeply about this. If we just mimic the nation, we're going to be a mid-tier university at BYU. But if we'll embrace our distinctive identity, we'll ask questions no one else is asking. I think when faith and reason, academic rigor and deep belief come together in powerful ways, it leads to different research questions. It gives us access to proprietary research data that we couldn't get otherwise. It lets us be a resource to society because of our religious mission. Let me give a couple examples so that doesn't sound so conceptual.

The Wheatley Institute of BYU, it is a stated purpose to look at core institutions in society that strengthen and build society, the constitution, the family, and religious entities. They recently did a study on sexual behavior before marriage. Now, the common narrative in society is before you get married, live with your partner, become comfortable with each other, spending an extended period of time, not only living together but having sexual relations, and then you'll know if you're compatible. Well, it turns out empirically, that's the worst thing you can do for the long-term preservation of marriage. The Wheatley Institute asked a question other family science and social science scholars weren't asking, and it's like, "Could modesty and abstinence actually have other outcomes?"

It turns out in the data, not only does it preserve marriage more fully, but people are happier and they find more meaning in their life outside of marriage when this has happened. That's a question and a data set that people wouldn't gather without a religious mission. I listened to Reverend Jenkins recently talk about Catholic Charities. Other than the federal government, Catholic Charities is the largest charity in the United States. They do more to fund needs in this country than any other entity, but they wouldn't let just any researcher come in and study what they're doing. The trust they had with Notre Dame University allowed Notre Dame to come in and get proprietary data that a typical scholar might not have access to.

We have the same thing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We're one of the largest crisis management entities in the world. When Katrina hit, the church was all over on that effort. When the tornadoes hit, the church was deploying resources there. I've said to our scholars, "We need to use that data to ask questions about crisis management that other people might not have access to." So I think scholarship can be edified when it asks questions that maybe are being ignored in society generally, and it lets you collect data that might not be looked at by other scholars. I won't belabor this, Michael, but here's another example. I was once talking to a national, very thoughtful publication, secular publication, and they claim to be committed to poverty.

We're looking at issues around alleviating poverty, and that's phenomenal. I said, "We are too." Then I said, "Are you looking at the structure of the American family? Because the highest predictor of intergenerational poverty is fatherless homes. If you're serious about poverty but you are ignoring the family, I question whether you're really serious about poverty." Religious schools because they're not afraid to bring in the faith angle to their scholarship or a family angle to their scholarship sometimes can ask questions that are left undone by other universities and other scholars.

Jeff Selingo:

So Clark, there's another common theme in the issue around faith being central to the development of character. It's something that Michael and I talked about with the leaders of some Jesuit institutions on the show last year, but I suspect many listening have in the back of their minds the reality that certainly most parents but also students do when they go to college, that the outcome that they want is a job. So, if that's true, why is the development of character then so important?

Clark Gilbert:

I had this conversation with our Dean at the BYU Marriott School. It's another Harvard sourced leader in our system, Brigitte Madrian. She has this mission to develop Christ-like leadership in their graduates. Of course, I believe in that because of our religious mission, but I said to her, "Brigitte, why should Google or Walmart or Boeing care about your religious mission? They need qualified employees who can do their jobs well." It was interesting as we've had that conversation, with all these employers, they want people who are responsible, who are accountable. They want people who have high integrity. They want people to have stable home lives. They find employees do better when they can be relied on.

We believe in our own faith tradition, Jeff, that you have a religious duty to be professional and responsible and accountable to those who you're employed by. So, we find in the Marriott School of Management at BYU and in our university graduates in general, employers value people who are of character and integrity and have a work ethic and have stable and happy home lives. Religion, whether you're a religious scholar or a social scientist, is a strong predictor of all of those factors. I'm talking here about our MBA graduates going off to Goldman Sachs and Google and Boeing, but we see the same thing with our BYU Pathway program. This is for first generation college students.

All around the world, they tend to be below the poverty line. We have over 15,000 students in Africa in BYU Pathway, and we have multinational employers who come to us to hire those students because they think they have character, they'll arrive to work on time, they have integrity, they're hardworking. It's become a comparative advantage in the job market, Jeff, that to have religious character strengthen the quality of the people you might hire from our schools.

Jeff Selingo:

Well, so this is interesting, Clark, because you've done I think a good job painting a picture of the strength and differentiation that faith can provide institutions, but there's also this inconvenient reality, which is that as many institutions close or struggle to get by, one of your mentors, Clay Christensen predicted with close, they're religious colleges. So, what are your thoughts on why that's happening and what does it mean for the demand for religious colleges and universities if they're the ones that are first close right now?

Clark Gilbert:

Yeah, I think there's two variables. Any phenomena is predicted by many things. One is its model, its academic operating model. The other one is the quality of what it produces. If you have a high cost, subscale, low utilization, traditional liberal arts college, you're going to be struggling today. Students are not looking to pay $50,000 to come to a campus and do this. There is tremendous pressure to innovate those models. Where there are religious schools who look like that, their answer has been we have to raise tuition to afford the cost of higher education. Being religious does not free you up of the burden of delivering a valuable, affordable, quality experience.

So, with many of our religious university friends, we've shared things we're doing around a teaching focus model at BYU Idaho or the online learning programs of BYU Pathway. We've shown how that can lower the cost of the operating model. If you went to a three-track system, look what that would do to your physical utilization, to your faculty utilization. Look what online learning can do to lower the cost of delivery. So, we've said, "Look, tap into your religious identity to innovate, but know it's going to be very hard for a subscale, poorly utilized liberal arts entity in an expensive cost structure to be sustainable." On the flip side, if these religious schools will innovate in those ways, the demand for what they provide in the student experience has never been higher.

I'm working on an article right now about religious university enrollment. Over the last 20 years, religious schools have grown faster than public universities. I think that's even more remarkable, Jeff, because there were so many small traditional liberal arts type model schools in the mix with that. But even with that, religious school enrollment's growing faster than the rest of the academy. It's growing much faster than private universities in general and it's even growing faster than public universities. So, the question is, right, yeah, there are pressures to run universities well and cost efficiently, but as far as total demand, we believe that this is again and back to our colleague Rabbi Ari Berman at Yeshiva, they're at record enrollment.

BYU and BYU Idaho's enrollment has grown over 50% in that 20-year period from 2000 to 2020. Rabbi Berman said, "The crisis facing America isn't a crisis of faith. It's a crisis of meaning." Young adults in this generation want to engage in something meaningful. It turns out a secular answer to that question is not fulfilling and it's not reaching lots of people, young people. Religious schools provide a place where you can preserve your personal religious identity. You can feel some protection from discrimination in society. We are very confident and very bullish in the long term enrollment transfer religious university.

Now, yes, I put an asterisk to say, you can't charge $50,000 a year and you've got to innovate on the models. We're doing that in BYU Idaho and BYU Pathway and BYU Hawaii and all of our schools, but the fundamental need to find meaning in your education. Yes, they do want a job, but they also want to leave with a deeper sense of self, a deeper sense of identity, and an ability to give back to society. Religious schools do an excellent job at that in a way that often isn't there in many secular universities.

Michael Horn:

Clark, that takes us to the last question that we have for you, which relevant as I think about meaning and purpose and innovation in one's life, but as Jeff mentioned, we both share a mentor in Clay Christensen. In higher ed, he's known for many things from his scholarship to the predictions that Jeff just referenced about college's closing. But what's one thing that you learned from Clay about higher ed that perhaps is not widely known?

Clark Gilbert:

It's interesting. I sat at Clay's feet as his student in the classroom and as a scholar. Then I was a colleague with him on the faculty. I've spent almost all of my career since I left the Harvard Business School trying to find ways to use new models of innovation to reach more people. But in the end, Michael, I'm a classroom teacher. I like looking at people in the eyes. While we're talking, there's a hundred thousand students in online courses that I helped create for our system, but in the end, it's still a one-on-one relationship. My team at BYU Pathway and BYU Pathway's grown and grown and grown, and they're like, "Hey, we could create bigger sections and the outcomes look pretty good even with the larger sections."

I'm like, "But there will be no relationship beyond a certain threshold with the faculty member." I think what I learned from Clay and I experienced from Clay is with all of his insights on innovation and so much of which I've been able to draw on and use in the work of our church's educational system, with all of his insights on education, in the end, Clay was a teacher and individual students mattered. I always, when I was in Clay's class, found myself inspired to be better, to want to be something more. Clay was so modest, and yet he was one of the most capable people we've ever been around. Yet he was the humblest guy in the room. Some people want to be the smartest guy. Clay wanted to be the most modest guy in the room. That affected me as a student.

I mean, we both were in his classroom. We felt that. I love innovation. I love change. I love all the things that are happening in our church's educational system, but in the end, it's got to affect one person, one at a time, and be transformative in their life. As I think about Clay, he did that. He did that for me, and that still remains an aspirational goal for me. I can talk all day about growth and enrollment and cost models, but in the end, does what we do fundamentally change people's lives for the better? Sometimes that's in earnings, but at the core is does it change their character? Does it change who they are, who they want to be? People might not know with all of Clay's big thinking, he leaned in one at a time to bless people's lives. I was the recipient of that ministerial teaching that I got from Clay Christensen.

Michael Horn:

Terrific. Clark, thanks for joining us on Future U, and we'll be right back.


This episode of Future U is sponsored by Ascendium Education Group, a nonprofit organization committed to helping learners from low-income backgrounds reach their education and career goals. Ascendium believes that system level change and a student-centric approach are important for our nation's efforts to boost post-secondary education and workforce training opportunities. That's why their philanthropy aims to remove systemic barriers faced by these learners, specifically first generation students, incarcerated adults, veterans, students of color, adult learners, and rural community members. For more information, visit

This episode is being brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They're workers, parents and caregivers, and neighbors, and colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student-centered at

Jeff Selingo:

Welcome back to Future U, and there's so much in that conversation with Clark for whom his work and religion are deep staples of his life and they clearly were intertwined. So, where should we start? Michael, what struck you about that conversation?

Michael Horn:

Yeah, Jeff, I had a few reactions, and one is that I had never actually really thought about this before. The ability to get top talent to work at these institutions for perhaps less money and less prestige than they could get elsewhere, I'm embarrassed, frankly, that I hadn't thought of this before, but I'm just going to out myself here and some of my classmates with a little story about this. It goes back to my business school days. I'm a second year at the Harvard Business School. Frankly, what I'm about to say, it's a bit offensive on multiple levels, but hopefully, I can just land the central point. Every year, you do this HBS show, where you do this musical that mocked some part of the campus.

Second year had started off with a bit of a surprise when Kim Clark, who was our dean at the time, had up and left with frankly no notice as far as the students could tell and taken the presidency at BYU Idaho, which is an institution I think 90% of us had never heard of. We did this musical number to Jesus Christ Superstar at the beginning where we said, "BYU Idaho, US News and World Report ranked 460." I should note, I didn't write the lyrics, but I also didn't have the deeply held cynical views I now have of the US News rankings back then either. I think the astonishment that we had as HBS students and I say that in full recognition of how spoiled and caught up with ourselves we were, but the astonishment we had that Kim Clark would leave us.

I mean, it's the Harvard Business School, right, T-H-E, for BYU Idaho, which those of us outside of the church, we had never really heard of. Well, it's something else, but I think it's indicative of one of the advantages that religion can bring to the table or I suppose any cause, right? It doesn't have to just be religion that someone really deeply believes in and permeates who they are. It does make me wonder though, Jeff, how generalizable is this to other parts of higher ed in terms of you maybe do attract people, but can you really use it to reduce costs and make the model more affordable?

I do like, Jeff, how Clark distinguished between the question of cost and subsidy and the conversation, of course, and what the church underwrites for its institutions. But I will say that that was a big aha for me. I had a couple other thoughts, but I'd be curious your reaction first.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael, I mean, I don't want to sound like a broken recorder either, but rather than move away from their religious identity, it seems like they really should lean into it because it really ties back to the two things that I talk about often on the show. It's belonging and purpose, that students feel like they find their people and they have a sense of purpose for what they're trying to do. A few months ago, I was actually with Clark at ACE event, an American Council on Education event that they hosted in DC. He said that when students enroll and arrive at religious college, it's really the first time that many of them feel like they fit in.

He joked that he stood out in high school and that his friends would tap him as the designated driver when they would drink alcohol, but as soon as he matriculated to a religious campus, he really felt at ease, because again, he had that sense of belonging. In many ways, religious colleges serve as havens in this increasingly secular country, and they should really capitalize on those niches and not attempt to mimic the rest of the higher education world in my opinion.

Michael Horn:

It goes back to the differentiation being a source of strength. I think more broadly, this is the big takeaway, Jeff. It's something we talked about last year as well in the episode where we had the presidents of Holy Cross and Fordham on as well, what can they do with their religious missions? I think that's the big thing, is lean into it around purpose and belonging. Two other thoughts for what they're worth, one in affordability. I think leaning into your religious mission and using that lends a huge advantage on cost for another reason, because it has the potential to reduce acquisition costs like big time.

If you're a Mormon loving anywhere in the world, BYU Pathway Worldwide is synonymous for online affordable institution, and you don't need to play the Google or Facebook game of finding a good college fit if that's what you're looking for. So, frankly, you see it in the numbers for BYU Pathway Worldwide is the growth of students without costs increasing at the same rate. I think that could be true for other affinities, frankly, as well though to these broader points around purpose and belonging, become synonymous for something and stand for it and stand for it always. One other thought is the importance of character education that Clark spoke about. I don't think just religious institutions can do this.

I think about something I heard from the former Dartmouth President, former World Bank President Jim Kim once said, which was... I'm sure I'm paraphrasing here, but he basically said, "When you look to make a hire, hire an athlete." His point was that being an athlete really instills in people a deep work ethic, executive function skills, a desire to do well and win, a sense of fairness, competition, on and on.

So, if you could view athletics as a way to develop outstanding graduates in the world, athletics need not be seen as a distraction, but actually as a core part of what the university does. I think this gets character education more broadly or maybe what Summit Public Schools in the K-12 world would call habits of success, Jeff. Agency, perseverance, self-efficacy, metacognition, curiosity.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael, I really want to dig deeper on that and not only in this episode, but perhaps next year, on Future U, we should really focus a little bit more on this idea of character education. I noted this morning, the day we're recording, I noted to my wife that our two kids are really rules followers. I admit, I break them sometimes and my kids call them out, especially when we're in the car and on the road. I don't always follow the speed limit and things like that. I said to my wife, "Why are they such rules followers?" She noted that in their K through six school, they really focus on core values and character education and it's why they're such rules followers.

I think now I hope that we're doing a little bit as at home as well, but I think it does come down to their education. It's really interesting, because there was this recent survey, this populous survey, and maybe again one day we might have Todd Rose on the show to talk about this. Again, we'll put this in the show notes. They asked K through 12 parents what they want out of schools. They thought that there was actually too much focus on preparing students for college and not enough on some of the basic things that they thought schools should do, including character education.

I'm really struck Michael by this editorial and again, something else we'll put in the show notes that was in the Stanford student newspaper after a string of Stanford graduates have gone through essentially being on trial for doing things that weren't exactly ethical. The headline of the piece was, "What does Stanford stand for?" As they noted, as the student editors noted, the founders of Jewel, Elizabeth Holmes, Sam Bankman-Fried, Carlos Watson, all of these, as they said, these high profile fraud cases all share a common denominator, and that's namely Stanford. Each trial focuses more scrutiny on the institution that produced these crook founders.

Stanford's response, as the student editors pointed out over and over again, has been deafening silence. They haven't reacted to any of this, but more so what can Stanford do? I think maybe building more character education and ethics into the undergraduate curriculum, which I think is the piece of that a religious college is able to do. I think it's going to require us probably to slow education down a little bit, to build more of this into more secular institutions. But again, I think that this is one thing that religious institutions can really lean in on because it's something, it seems, at least from the data that parents want.

Michael Horn:

Well, in a world of AI, it's going to become more important that's for sure as well, Jeff, to be thinking about these questions. But last thought, I was also struck by Clark's commitment to serving those with less. Look, he obviously talked about the privileges he and his family have, but he also made it clear how central it was for his church to serve those with less. In hearing that and what it meant to him to be able to tell someone who didn't think they were "college material," that in his words and certainly not my words, Jesus loves them and they can succeed.

I was just struck by something our friend Paul Friedman often says, which is that success in college can really change not just the lives of the individual, but also lift up their entire family tree. That struck me as relevant here, given how Clark thinks about the centrality and integration of family and individuals.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael, it's why the focus, I think, now on social mobility of higher education and individual institutions in pushing forward social mobility is so important. It's why a lot of the rankings are now focused much more on social mobility. It's why ACE will likely focus the new Carnegie Classifications more on social mobility. I think it's so important. At the end of the day, it's not just about what the institution is doing for that single individual, but everyone around that individual. So, really thrilled that we were able to have Clark on the show with us. I think it's an important issue that we probably don't talk enough about, especially as the country does become more secular. Again, thank you all for joining us on this episode at Future U, and we'll see you next time.

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