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BYU-Pathway Worldwide
President Russell M. Nelson, left, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, installs Clark G. Gilbert as the first president of BYU-Pathway Worldwide at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — The president of the newest BYU is now official.

Clark Gilbert was formally installed as the first president of BYU-Pathway Worldwide on Thursday night by President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

Gilbert's inauguration was carried on a live feed to 458 BYU-PW sites in 77 nations so any of the 38,297 students who have taken Pathway-related courses this year could participate.

"As authorized by the officers of the board of trustees of BYU-Pathway Worldwide," President Nelson said, "I formally install you as president of BYU-PW and confer upon you the authority, the prerogatives, the responsibility and the challenges associated with this fine office, and I charge you to go forward in leading this new organization to heights of honor, achievement and recognition."

LDS Church leaders announced the creation of BYU-PW in February, making it the faith's fifth institution of higher education.

The core of BYU-PW is — and always will be, Gilbert said Thursday — the PathwayConnect program, which provides a one-year, affordable on-ramp to college education for students who are intimidated, priced out of higher ed or unable to attend a church school. The school also coordinates all other Church Educational System online higher education certificate and degree programs.

The presidents of BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College attended the inauguration. All five schools are owned and operated by the LDS Church.

Education is prized in LDS theology, and Mormons who have graduated from college display the highest levels of religious commitment — 84 percent, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center.

Gilbert, 47, quoted current church leaders who have called education a religious responsibility and a commandment, and said fewer than half of American Mormons have college degrees, a finding from a 2016 Pew study.

A large swath have at least some college, however, and BYU-PW is designed to help them re-launch, as well as those who never have started. In fact, 51 percent of students are 31 or older.

"I encourage each person, regardless of age, to continue to learn," President Nelson said. "Pursue whatever path will be most valuable to you and your family. You will be blessed as you do this. You will grow academically, professionally and spiritually as you seek to enhance your education."

Gilbert said BYU-PW is building personal temples of learning, and "BYU-PW students are constructing temples of learning in their own lives."

The idea's roots are in the history of BYU-Idaho. Beginning in 1971, three school presidents mentioned in their inaugural responses the need to find ways to serve students who couldn't come to the Rexburg, Idaho, campus.

PathwayConnect began with 50 students at three pilot locations in the fall of 2009.

This fall, PathwayConnect has 15,053 students who study online but meet together weekly, generally at LDS institutes of religion or church buildings. Nearly a third live outside the United States. Women make up 59 percent of the overall student body.

"Because many students cannot go to CES campuses, PathwayConnect has found a way to take the CES experience to the students," President Nelson said Thursday. "I hope each of you special students can realize the inspiration of this program and the blessing it has been — and will continue to be — in your lives. PathwayConnect has already been a lifechanging force in the lives of many students."

Pathway Connect began under the direction of Elder Kim B. Clark, then BYU-Idaho's president and now the commissioner of the Church Educational System.

Gilbert was at Elder Clark's side.

"It is altogether fitting that Clark Gilbert should lead the people of BYU-Pathway Worldwide as their first president," Elder Clark said during the inauguration Thursday. "Not only was he there at the beginning of Pathway, but he and Christine also have heard the voice of the Lord. ... I have been an eyewitness to their devotion and consecration in following the Lord's call four different times in the last 12 years."

Gilbert left a Harvard Business School professorship in 2006 to work for Elder Clark at BYU-Idaho. He accepted the job of president and CEO of the church-owned Deseret News Publishing Co. and Deseret Digital Media in 2009. In 2015, he became the president of BYU-Idaho.

Gilbert and his wife, Christine, have eight children.

President Nelson said BYU-PW is unique in the church's educational system and helps students begin or continue their education, build self-confidence and leadership in a supportive environment, learn skills to succeed in life, gain meaningful employment, become better providers and grow spiritually.

Students first obtain "gateway" certificates intended to be relevant to their local job market. BYU-PW then provides a path to a limited number of degree programs that are in high demand, lead to employability and fit a consistent online course design.

That keeps costs down.

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PathwayConnect tuition costs about $70 per credit hour in the United States and as little as $10 per credit hour in other nations, Gilbert said.

Members of the BYU-PW board of trustees attended the event, including Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the presidency of the Seventy; Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, a General Authority Seventy; Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé; Sister Jean B. Bingham; Relief Society general president; Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president; and Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president.