New program takes the “distance” out of distance learning

May 23, 2011

Writer: Writer: Andy Cargal

Attending college is a dream for a lot of prospective students. But for many, it is far from reality. That's why Brigham Young University-Idaho has developed Pathway, an educational program aimed at helping even more students realize their dreams.


"Historically, we've brought students from around the world to BYU-Idaho," said Rob Eaton, associate academic vice president for Academic Development. "Pathway, on the other hand, brings BYU-Idaho to the students - wherever they live. For those who can't come here or aren't ready to come, it can be a blessing."


Intended to be both affordable and accessible, Pathway offers BYU-Idaho courses online at a relatively low cost. The program began in Fall 2009 as a pilot in three U.S. cities with about 50 students in total. It is now officially approved and currently offered in 22 U.S. cities and two international locations, with an average of 15-20 students per location.


This program specifically targets the growing number of individuals who have not earned an associate or bachelor's degree by addressing two of the greatest obstacles to higher education: cost and fear. "We conducted focus groups across the country, and we were surprised to learn just how big a factor fear is," said J.D. Griffith, Pathway and Online Programs managing director. "We designed this program to help students overcome their fears by easing them into college and providing a supportive framework."


All classes are conducted online, but Pathway students also gather in small groups at least weekly at their local Institute of Religion* building to work on course assignments and collaborate on educational activities. Volunteer missionary couples in each location donate their time to help these students and provide additional support.


"This is not self-paced online education that students do in isolation," said Griffith. "One of the biggest benefits of Pathway is that these students get to work very closely with one another. They develop a sense of comaraderie, helping each other to overcome their fears and to succeed. They get a true BYU-Idaho experience, even though they are not on campus."


With Pathway, students are eased into the challenges of higher education with a light load during their first year. The curriculum is designed to help students shore up basic skills that will prepare them to succeed in college and in life. If students maintain a B average during this first preparatory year, they can then be officially admitted to BYU-Idaho and continue to earn certificates, associate, and even bachelor's degrees. Students can also transfer to other colleges at any time. "One of the greatest things about this program is that it helps students find their educational pathway," Eaton said.


Research from the pilot progam indicates significant success. Ninety-five percent of students who participated in the pilot indicated a newfound excitement for learning and said they felt more confident about their ability to succeed in college.


For additional information, please visit www.byui.edu/pathway.

 

*Institutes of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provide weekday religious instruction for single and married postsecondary students. Institutes are located in more than 2,500 locations worldwide.