125-Year-Old LDSBC Helps Members, Leaders

Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 22 July 2011

Article Highlights

  • In November, LDS Business College celebrates 125 years.
  • LDSBC focuses on two-year degrees and professional certificates.
  • Its open enrollment policy attracts students of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities.

“Our main thrust [at LDS Business College] is to help students get a skill and get into the marketplace and begin to contribute to their communities, their families, and to the Church.”

—J. Lawrence Richards, college president

As Church-owned LDS Business College (LDSBC) celebrates 125 years, it is interesting to look back at its history of helping Church members and Church leaders.

Located in the heart of Salt Lake City and surrounded by a vibrant professional community, just half a mile west of Temple Square, the coppery exterior of LDSBC looks sleek, but inside it’s “strictly business.” Inside, students work toward two-year degrees in subjects ranging from accounting to interior design.

Begun in 1886 as the Salt Lake Academy, the college first opened its doors to 84 students. Since then, it has been recognized for its skills-based education in a spiritual environment.

Under a succession of 12 college presidents, the rapidly growing school has built up a rich tradition of international students—nearly 20 percent come from countries outside the U.S.—and more than 76,000 alumni.

“We’re seeing growth that will enable a growing number of people and nontraditional students to obtain an education that they need,” said Louise Brown, public affairs director for the school. “We serve a population that might otherwise not be served in the Church Educational System.”

But that’s not the only thing that makes LDSBC distinctive. Today scores of dedicated faculty and staff serve approximately 1,900 students at a time—99 percent of those students are LDS, and 44 percent are returned missionaries.

The private, two-year, not-for-profit school appeals to students for many reasons, said LDSBC President J. Lawrence Richards, but there are four things that distinguish the college from any other institute of higher learning.

First, the college is primarily focused on two-year skill degrees. “Our main thrust is to help students get a skill and get into the marketplace and begin to contribute to their communities, their families, and to the Church,” President Richards said.

He cited information that shows the majority of growth in new jobs is coming in the “middle skills” area—not the area of bachelor’s degrees—and that many of these jobs pay more than some jobs held by those with a bachelor’s degree.

Second, the college’s student population is distinct. Open enrollment means students don’t qualify through a score on a standardized test. “We’re more interested in if a student has the right heart to come and learn in the Lord’s way and if they’re willing to work hard,” President Richards explained.

Unlike most colleges, the majority of faculty at LDS Business College is comprised of practicing professionals who teach when they aren’t in the community practicing the very trade, job, or profession that makes up their career.

Finally, President Richards emphasized that LDSBC is distinctive for its size—it’s the smallest of the four Church schools—which allows the college to operate at a much more personal level and create a family feel that is “difficult to replicate at other schools.”

According to Brown, the college was founded on the philosophy that students needed a place where they could gain an education in a spiritual environment. For instance, Mark Drennen, who graduated from LDSBC in 2007 before going on to study electrical engineering at BYU chose the college for its standards, atmosphere, and low tuition.

Not only did LDSBC help him hone his studying skills in smaller classrooms and an environment with a lower student to teacher ratio, it also helped him decide to go on to major in electrical engineering through his work with the school’s IT department.

“At the business college there was a lot more spiritual camaraderie . . . as opposed to just going to class with a bunch of people where the only thing you have in common is you’re in the same class and probably the same religion,” he wrote in a reflection paper. “At the business college a lot of the people are a lot closer and stronger together.”

Craig V. Nelson, vice president for public affairs and advancement at LDSBC, agreed that the Spirit is key. “If we invite the Spirit to our campus individually and collectively, that Spirit will guide the students, accelerate their learning, and refine their character,” he said. “We can provide employers with skilled, ethical employees.”

In April 2011, approximately 485 graduates earned two-year degrees, and 125 certificates were issued. The college has a track record of placing 90 percent of graduates in jobs within six months.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who attended LDSBC in 1941 for a short time, told graduates the ultimate aim of true education is the building of character.

“The world in which we live is one marred with confusion, greed, and unfocused energy; that will not be the pattern of students educated here,” he said. “We expect high ideals tempered with frugality and a lofty sense of service.”

One of those high ideals is educating future community and Church leaders, President Richards said: “We play an important part in the Church’s effort to create leaders who can help the Church grow all over the world.”

“We’re not for everyone,” Craig Nelson added. “But LDS Business College provides an essential access point for many people who need higher education, who need to know where they’re going next.”