Brigham Young University—Idaho, located in Rexburg, started as an academy in a log building in 1888. In 1923, it became known as Ricks College, eventually becoming the largest private two-year college in the United States. In 2000, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the school, announced the school would become a four year university with the name Brigham Young University—Idaho. It was accredited as such in 2004.
The official website describes the school’s goals:
“Guided by its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU-Idaho seeks to develop students who are faithful disciples and capable leaders. This is done by creating a wholesome, righteous learning community in which students can strengthen their testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and receive a quality education that prepares them for leadership in the home, the Church, and the workplace.” (See Learning by Study and Faith: The Academic Experience at BYU-Idaho.)
Brigham Young University-Idaho has a strong health sciences and biology program with labs that are state of the art. In true Mormon university tradition, they graduate many pre-dental and pre-med students. They are also noted for their excellent English, education, art, and agriculture programs.
Professors are not required to focus on publishing and instead are encouraged to work on developing new methods of teaching and learning. This is assisting the school in its goal to become a university with high academic standards and innovative teaching. They have developed a unique Learning Model which encourages students to take greater responsibility for their own learning and to teach each other, better preparing them for the world outside of school.
The first step of the model requires students to prepare for class both individually and as a group. Secondly, they teach their peers what they are learning in their personal studies. The third step is ponder and prove. The students spend time contemplating what they’ve learned and then apply it as a way to prove it is true. Five principles govern this model:
- Exercise faith.
- Learn by the Holy Ghost
- Lay hold on the word of God.
- Act for themselves.
- Love, serve, and teach one another.
The students are taught this should be a model for their entire lives, not just their time as students, and will help them become leaders. Even undergraduate students might find themselves sharing knowledge by teaching a class. For instance, one semester a class on the sociology of film, covering controversial topics, was taught by a junior under the supervision of a professor.
Classes are held on a three semester program, allowing more students to come through the school and making interns available all year. The school does not offer intercollegiate sports, due to budget and the school’s remote location. Nor does it offer a Greek system. However, the lack of these two programs has led to the development of an extensive activity program and many student-led initiatives. The activity program covers six focus areas: service, outdoor, talent, fitness, sports, and social. Students may play intramural sports on a variety of teams. Service activities serve the school, the community and also include world-wide humanitarian work. BYU-Idaho has developed an extensive performing arts and music program for both serious and hobby musicians. The talent component allows students to join exploration workshops, where they can learn about a potential new hobby, or perform and demonstrate what they’ve already learned. The activities program is entirely student-run.
Following a pattern set by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, students are encouraged to participate in regular acts of service. One such activity is assisting the Happy Factory. Wooden toys are created through the architecture department, although any student may use the patterns to create and donate toys. About 100 toys are made each evening, and they are shipped to Utah, where the Happy Factory distributes them to low-income children world-wide.
An African history class at the university sent 1,740 pounds of textbooks to Nkumba University in Entebbe, Uganda. There, the teacher generally has a textbook, but the fifteen or twenty students in the class share a single book. The books were shipped using funds donated by the Business Department’s Integrated Business Core student businesses. All profits from these student businesses are donated to charity and many students chose this project for their funds.
One thing that might make BYU-Idaho unique is that about half its students have served full-time missions for the Mormons, and a quarter of the students are married. All students and staff agree to live by a strict honor code. This code requires high levels of morality in areas such as academic integrity, chastity, modest dress, and abstinence from alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. These are standards Mormons are required to live at all times, and so agreeing to live these standards at school trains them for the future and ensures a strong spiritual atmosphere on campus. The school is known for its special environment, known as the Spirit of Ricks.