Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are strong supporters of both secular and spiritual education. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet and president, only had three years of formal schooling, supplemented by some education from his father, although, because the family worked hard to survive, this was minimal. He longed for a better education and very early on after the church was formed, he organized schools to improve Mormon education. These schools included adult education, and he was one of the most devoted students in the adult Mormon education school. He took a class in Hebrew taught by a rabbi who had been brought in for that purpose. The instructor noted that no one worked harder than Joseph at his assignments.
Mormons teach parents to ensure their children receive an education through traditional schooling or homeschooling. They also emphasize supplementing religious and secular education in the home by creating educationally rich homes. Both the men’s and women’s classes teach parenting skills that include enriching a child’s knowledge.
Mormons don’t have private schools below the college level except in a few more remote areas of the world. Parents choose whatever form of education they want for their children. However, they do operate several colleges, including the world-renowned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. There are branches of this school in Idaho and Hawaii as well. In addition, there is a business college in Utah.
A unique aspect of Mormon education is the Perpetual Education Fund. This fund was established in 2001 to help students in developing nations get educations. It was noted that many Mormon young people in these countries served volunteer church missions. When they returned home, they had developed poise, business skills, the cultural skills required for higher level business, and often skill in a foreign language. Unfortunately, they then returned home to find no opportunity to use these skills because they could not afford to continue their educations. They remained poor and their children would also be poor, continuing a cycle they could not escape alone.
The church established a program in which worthy young Mormons could receive a loan to cover their educations in college or a trade school. When they get a job, they repay the loan. That repayment money is then used to send another student to college. The initial funding came from church funds and donations from church members.
The program is based on a highly successful program developed by Brigham Young in pioneer days. Early Mormons could not afford to come to Utah, and in a time when communication was difficult, it was simpler to have everyone in one place. He established the Perpetual Emigration Fund. Members were loaned the money to get to Utah and then when they found employment, they began repaying the loan. Their repayment money went directly into a fund to help others emigrating. It is estimated that about 30,000 people were helped through this program.
In today’s program, there is a small interest charge in order to motivate recipients to repay the loan more quickly. Most will attend programs in their own community so they can live at home and so they are motivated to stay locally in order to benefit their own communities. Initially, most recipients would receive education in the trades, but in the future, college educations may be provided for some. The applicant must enroll in the Institute of Religion, a program of supplemental religious instruction for college-age students and that director takes the initial application. The local religious leader verifies that the applicant is morally worthy and really does need help. The student does not receive any cash—the money is paid to the school to ensure it is used for the right purpose. The program costs almost nothing to carry out and is run by a volunteer director and a secretary.
“Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training. Education is the key to opportunity. This training must be done in the areas where they live. It will then be suited to the opportunities of those areas. And it will cost much less in such places than it would if it were done in the United States or Canada or Europe.” (See Gordon B. Hinckley, The Perpetual Education Fund, April 2001 General Conference.)
In 2009, a report to members by the current Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson, stated that 35,600 students had participated in the program so far and 18,900 had to date completed their training. Their incomes had doubled or tripled with just an average of 2.7 years of training. Currently, 50,000 students have participated, coming from more than fifty countries. 47 percent are men, and 53 percent are women. Some now have college degrees, paid for through the program or with their earnings from the jobs the programs helped them train for initially.
Some of the young people helped have posted their stories online to show what is possible. Beatriz, from Chile, was serving a mission when the program was announced. She entered a nursing program soon after returning home, using funds from the PEF. She met her husband in college.
“I am grateful for the voice of the prophet and for the Perpetual Education Fund. Many of the things I have been able to achieve had only been dreams before, but now they have become a reality. I have the opportunity for financial stability, to help my family and the Church. It is for these reasons and many more that I am now repaying the money that was loaned to me, so that other people can benefit as I did at the time the Lord deemed appropriate” (PEF Success Stories).
Mormons are also encouraged to develop a life-long habit of both spiritual and secular education, whether through formal means or self-education. This encourages them to learn all they can and to set an example for their families. Mormon believe they take their learning with them when they die, providing incentive to continue learning forever.