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Educational Attainmentby Terrell H. Bell
Latter-day Saints have a significantly higher level of educational attainment than does the population of the United States as a whole. Contrary to the norm for other religious denominations, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have earned advanced academic degrees are more likely to be deeply involved in religious practices and activity in the Church, both from a personal standpoint and in rendering service in their Church.
These phenomena may be the result of the doctrinal emphasis on learning and education that is so prevalent in the Church. Latter-day Saints are taught from early childhood that they must read and ponder the scriptures (see Scripture Study). The high priority given education in the lives of most Latter-day Saints has its roots in specific scriptures in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, which assure the Saints that "to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Ne. 9:29).
Latter-day Saints are taught that what they learn in this life will go with them into eternity (D&C 130:18-19), that all truth and knowledge are available to each individual to acquire. They are gifts from God, but each individual must be worthy of them through diligent effort to learn. From birth to death, Church members hear from the pulpit, learn in Church meetings, and read in the scriptures that each individual must learn and grow in talent and ability. A quick rejoinder to a Mormon youth who might complain of finding nothing interesting or challenging to do is to read the scriptures, study from the great books, and follow the commandment to better oneself. This should be done not only for today and tomorrow but for eternity, since what one learns is a possession that never leaves. Latter-day Saints are taught that, although they cannot take their wealth or earthly goods with them into the next life, all of what they learn will be an everlasting possession.
The establishment of schools and colleges has been a priority since the founding of the Church. Only three years after the organization of the Church in 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith established the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio. Only seven months after the arrival of the pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley, a university was established (see University of Deseret). Throughout the History of the Church, schools were established in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah and in virtually every other location where the Saints have settled.
In Utah, where a large majority of the population are members of the Church, youth respond to scriptural precepts that stress the importance of learning by enrolling in high numbers in high school advanced placement courses that offer college-level credit. According to the annual report published in 1989 by the U.S. Department of Education, Utah ranked first among all the fifty states in the percentage of its high school seniors who took advanced placement courses (U.S. Department of Education State Education Performance Chart, 1989), in spite of the fact that Utah ranks among the lowest states in average expenditure per pupil.
Another factor motivating LDS youth to qualify for college credit while still in high school is the strong expectation in most of their families that they will serve as missionaries for the Church. With college being interrupted for missionary service, some of the time lost from pursuing a college degree can be recovered through heavy participation in advanced placement programs offered in high school.
Motivation to reach higher levels of education extends beyond the family and the scriptures. Outstanding accomplishments and milestone events in educational attainment are recognized from the pulpit in Church meetings where local leaders highlight distinguished academic accomplishments. The Deseret News, the daily newspaper published by the Church, adds to this momentum by sponsoring an annual "Sterling Scholars" program, which highlights outstanding student accomplishments in public high schools. This program features the best scholars in various fields of study at the high school level, culminating with photographs and biographical stories on semifinalists and finalists.
Because of their commitment to education, Latter-day Saints complete more schooling than the United States population as a whole (Albrecht and Heaton, p. 49). While 53.5 percent of Mormon males and 44.3 percent of Mormon females have at least some education beyond high school, only 36.5 percent of the males and 27.7 percent of the females in the U.S. population as a whole have any college-level education after high school.
Albrecht and Heaton also found that this traditionally high level of educational attainment among Latter-day Saints has not resulted in a decrease in their religious commitment. National survey data published by the Princeton Religious Research Center (1982) indicate the opposite result concerning the impact of higher education for the nation as a whole: the higher the level of educational attainment, the lower the level of religious zeal. The Princeton Center data suggest that it is generally quite difficult for academically preoccupied individuals to hold a view of the world that is at the same time both religious and scholarly. But, according to the research of Albrecht and Heaton (1984, pp. 43-57), LDS intellectuals have less often been caught in this dilemma. In these studies religiosity was measured in terms of making financial contributions, rendering services, and attending Church meetings.
Albrecht, Stan L., and Tim B. Heaton. "Secularization, Higher Education, and Religiosity." Review of Religious Research 26 (Sept. 1984):43-58.
Princeton Religious Research Center. Religion in America. Princeton, N.J., 1982.
United States Department of Education. State Education Statistics: Student Performance Chart. Washington, D.C., 1989.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Educational Attainment
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company