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South Jordan Journal

Former superintendent supports BYU-Pathway online global education program

Sep 11, 2023 12:51PM ● By Julie Slama

Former Jordan School District Superintendent Patrice Johnson is on a mission – literally and figuratively – into some uncharted waters.

In July, she and her husband, John, were called upon to serve as the first full-time senior missionary chaplains assigned to BYU-Pathway Worldwide, a conduit to provide education to online students.

Johnson, who has more than 40 years of experience working in the education field, and her husband, who spent 35 years in financial planning for those who served in the military, were given their specific roles for their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ mission the day before they started.

“We knew we were assigned to the Salt Lake headquarters mission, but we didn’t know what we were doing until their need and the skills that we came with just came together,” Johnson said.

The first part of their mission is to interview BYU-Pathway nonmember applicants to give them their ecclesiastical endorsements.

“BYU-Pathway is church sponsored, so students need ecclesiastical endorsements. Non-LDS members’ names are forwarded to us, then we contact them and do an ecclesiastical endorsement interview, which entails their commitment to follow the honor code because that’s the kind of atmosphere we want students to be educated in, whether it’s online or in person,” she said. “We ask them some questions, and they commit to us that ‘yes, that this is the experience I want to have.’ After our endorsement, we forward the application to admissions. Once they’re admitted, they just begin the program like any other college student in the world.”

Johnson said that in their first few weeks they had done five interviews and had at least 60 waiting. 

“We heard each term can get up to 5,000 nonmembers to be interviewed,” she said.

Students can apply, free of charge, through PathwayConnect and no college entrance exam is needed; Sept. 6 is the last day to complete an application for fall term. 

BYU-Pathway offers seven bachelor’s degrees, eight associate degrees and 28 certificate programs. Degrees are awarded by BYU-Idaho and Ensign College, sister institutions in the church’s educational system, while BYU-Pathway provides resources and support to help online students. 

Since beginning with 50 students in 2009, it has grown to serve more than 60,000 students in more than 180 countries. 

“During COVID, people learned they can do things online that they previously hadn’t been able to so there has been more surge recently. Innovation really took off and it was visionary. BYU-Idaho and Ensign College both provide the curriculum so BYU-Pathway is the vehicle for delivering the online education and it affects more people around the world,” she said, adding that BYU-Pathway is less expensive than many higher education programs, costing about $80 per credit in the United States, plus, students are guaranteed a tuition discount. “I see the vision of BYU-Pathway. They’re building your certificate and your degree so that you can have internships and be hired by these companies who are creating jobs in line with the education. The degrees that are being offered are the ones that are needed throughout the world and the jobs are open now.” 

The Johnsons videoconference internationally through WhatsApp.

“This morning, we had an interview from a nice young man in Nigeria. His mom introduced him and his brothers and sisters. He just had a real desire to be educated in an environment where it’s pure in heart. He wanted to have an education to lift his future family above the poverty line. This afternoon, we have one from Ghana and another from Côte d’Ivoire,” she said, adding that thus far, all the applicants have spoken English.

Their candidates, who are traditional and nontraditional students, also come from the United States. BYU-Pathway’s largest presence is in Utah where 9,100 students enrolled in 2022, she said.

A second part of their church mission is to write guidelines about the future process of ecclesiastical endorsements.

“We revisit them in a year, and that’s where the other part of our mission comes in. When we’re not doing these endorsement calls we are writing the guidelines on how to scale this. With more and more people coming in as nonmembers, we need to think creatively about how to have enough chaplains to handle the workload. There could be one million students enrolled in online education through BYU-Pathway and a third of them could be nonmembers, so how can we have enough chaplains? At this point, I don’t know how, but I know it’s possible and miraculous things happen and I’m sure that our minds will be enlightened. We pray about how we might be able to solve this and other things, and then miraculously, people always show up that have the tools and skills to match what is needed,” Johnson said. “This is just a miraculous mission for us. We couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect. I marvel at it every day.” λ