Is BYU Too Cheap?

Many of us who blog in the esteemed bloggernacle have profited from the incredibly low cost of a BYU education. Whether we attended ourselves and personally paid the low tuition, or a spouse or child attended. But is BYU tuition too cheap?

I was raised in a lower middle class family and college was affordable for me because of a generous set of grandparents and the below-market cost of a BYU education (otherwise I would have had to attend the University of Utah–the horror). But is tuition too low? I am no economist, but I do know that people react to incentives in all walks of life and never more so than when money is involved. When prices are artificially low, demand becomes artificially high (within certain parameters–this caveat for all the real economists who might read this).

A good example is the gasoline crisis in the 70s. The government pegged the prices at an artificially low price by subsidizing the cost. Lines grew around the block and shortages occurred. The government subsequently allowed the prices to rise to their market level. At the higher price, demand fell and the lines and shortages disappeared. Of course, the other side of the equation is that fewer people drove and companies that depend on gasoline prices (in this case trucking and delivery companies) went belly-up.

Members of the Church often discuss the high demand for a BYU education. Parents complain to Church leaders often enough about their children not getting admitted that Church leaders often address the issue from the pulpit. They discuss the alternatives to BYU and continue to extend those alternatives (BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Idaho, on-line classes). Still the demand cannot be met. If tuition were raised closer to market much of the demand would disappear. Alternatives to BYU (like Idaho and Hawaii) would become more attractive. Church leaders would probably have to deal with less complaints (after-all BYU tuition could be placed at a mid-range cost: still below market but above current).

However, one advantage of artificially low costs (besides the great affordability) are artificially high demands. In college rankings, high demand (leading to lower acceptance rates) equals higher rankings. By pegging tuition at a low rate and keeping attendance levels constant, BYU rises in the rankings. Perhaps the benefits to the Church and to BYU students of high rankings outweighs the cost of Mormon students who want to get in but can’t. So, is artificially high demand at BYU a good thing?


  1. As a BYU student from Canada I’m not sure I understand the question. Many members where I come from make a judgment about whether they want to apply to the Y because of their perception of what life is like here or a myriad of reasons, not because of the low cost cost. I’m under the impression the same is at least somewhat true in other parts of the US where the percentage of members is lower. We come to BYU becuase of what we like what we think it has to offer. Now maybe this is different in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, etc. Do so many people from these areas come only becuase of the cost? I’ve known a few but they seem a minority. Is it really true that a large fraction of BYU applicants apply only becuase of the cheap cost or is it really that most people here applied for other reasons entirely? If the number of people who are here for the cheap education is lower than you think, then is the demand artificially high or is it an accurate reflection of the number of people who want to attend BYU for other reasons that are not cost related? I’m not sure I could answer your last question until I’m convinced that your assesment that the high demand is artificial is correct.

  2. HL Rogers says:

    My pseudo-economic assesment is not that people make the decision based on price. It is that incentives drive decisions. Thus, while few consciously use price to determine whether to attend BYU, if the price were raised fewer would choose BYU for various reasons stemming from the price–all else being equal. Thus higher prices would cost-out several students now attending (they would not be able to afford tuition), others would weigh the benefits of all the Church schools they look at (presuming that “church school” is a high desire) and other church schools would become more attractive because of the price shift.

    In the 70s people didn’t line up for gas because it was cheap per se (hey gas is cheap today, I think I’ll buy). But more people bought gas because they could afford it or because it was cheap enough that walking or taking the bus was not attractive.

    Price is not the only decision factor but if we control for the other factors and examine the influence of price I think we find some interesting trends.

    Plus it is well understood that Canadians simply don’t understand free markets–isn’t that right Steve?

  3. Ok, so now that I feel like I understand your question I’ll have a go at it.

    I think you would eliminate people from applying if the cost of tuition was raised. The result of this is that the poorest people would probably eliminate themselves and stop applying. Maybe then BYU’s artificially high demand would stop and other people would stop applying because BYU would fall in the national rankings. Maybe some of those people who stop applying are the smartest candidates applying (they were applying because they thought BYU was a very good school because of it’s artificially high ranking) and so the BYU student body’s overall intelligence drops which sends BYU plunging further down in the rankings. And maybe then BYU’s tuition would be too high for what it offers and the prices have to fall back to where they were at which point they would be no longer artificially low. Maybe.

    The only sure thing that I can see that raising the prices would do is cut off poorest people, particularly members, from applying to attend a great school (at least in terms of what you get for your dollar). All the other seemingly positive side effects of having an artificially high demand make little difference to me when I think about the fact that the poorest can afford to come here, my wife being the best possible example I can think of. That changes the issue I guess but I still think that the low cost of tuition here is a good thing and if that comes with an artificially high demand, so be it.

  4. Ok, so now that I feel like I understand your question I’ll have a go at it.

    I think you would eliminate people from applying if the cost of tuition was raised. The result of this is that the poorest people would probably eliminate themselves and stop applying. Maybe then BYU’s artificially high demand would stop and other people would stop applying because BYU would fall in the national rankings. Maybe some of those people who stop applying are the smartest candidates applying (they were applying because they thought BYU was a very good school because of it’s artificially high ranking) and so the BYU student body’s overall intelligence drops which sends BYU plunging further down in the rankings. And maybe then BYU’s tuition would be too high for what it offers and the prices have to fall back to where they were at which point they would be no longer artificially low. Maybe.

    The only sure thing that I can see that raising the prices would do is cut off poorest people, particularly members, from applying to attend a great school (at least in terms of what you get for your dollar). All the other seemingly positive side effects of having an artificially high demand make little difference to me when I think about the fact that the poorest can afford to come here, my wife being the best possible example I can think of. That changes the issue I guess but I still think that the low cost of tuition here is a good thing and if that comes with an artificially high demand, so be it.

  5. Sorry about the double post, wasn’s sure if the first one got off.

  6. Two of my three children and their spouses attend they for this very reason it’s the cheapest bachelors degree available. We’re California Mormons. My soon to be wedded 3rd daughter will be going in August for the same reasons. All will attend graduate school outside Utah. Even with California state universities being pretty cheap, housing isn’t so until that bachelor’s degree is done they’re where it is economically more viable to succeed.

  7. Bob Caswell says:

    HL Rogers,

    When you say, “By pegging tuition at a low rate and keeping attendance levels constant, BYU rises in the rankings.” I completely agree! Not only that, I’d add that as a prospective MBA student, I find that the “quality” of BYU’s MBA program is so grossly skewed by the value variable used in the top business school ranking lists that there is quite an inflated image. When return on investment is five times better than any other blasted school, you could have robots for professors and still make it into the top 50 on many well known lists.

  8. Tom Manney says:

    I guess I don’t understand the motive for the question. You don’t have to stand in a long line to get into BYU, you just have to send in your application and hope for the best. Unless you’re putting in long nights on BYU’s admissions board, I don’t see how high demand is a problem.

  9. Robots for professors, eh? Interesting…

    Of course, some would say this has already happened.

  10. I support only letting rich people into anything desirable and making the poor stand in long lines for government cheese.


    Because it works!

  11. HL Rogers says:

    I think you have missed the issues I am trying to raise. The demand for BYU education is high. Parents complain often to General Authorities. Acceptance rates are relatively low and scores/grades needed to get in are relatively high. For those who see this as a problwem (referring to parents of LDS kids who wanted but could not get into BYU; there may also be other groups), the solution might be to expand the school. This alternative has been dismissed for the decision to expand other alternatives, like BYU-Idaho. Many parents still are unhappy with this solution. From an economic standpoint one way to “solve” this issue is to raise the costs. Thus, BYU becomes economically unattractive to many, the demand falls, and thus presumably the complaints. The down side of such a measure is that BYU might fall in the rankings because less people would apply, acceptance rates would rise, forcing ranking down. I think the artificial demand is great: low price, high rankings. I have personally profited from both. But just because I have profited, does that make it the right course of action?

    Should BYU better reflect the market so that the demand for BYU is lower, and presumably more within the proper market parameters? rent control leads to housing shortages, the same could be said for BYU tuition control.

    Is this a good analogy? Will LDS parents be better situated if tuition rises aiding both the wealthy and the less intelligent (meaning those who score lower on standardized tests)? Could scholarships be beefed up to make up for the poor? Is the goal of BYU to educate us in a spiritual environment or to add to Mormon clout across the country? A little of both? Is low ttuition in line with BYU’s goals considering the unintended economic effect?

  12. Bob Caswell says:

    Man, Steve, is there a book about some aspect of Mormonism that you are NOT aware of? By the way, have you read this book? Any good?

  13. Bob, there’s a big difference between being aware of aspects of mormonism, and actually knowing your ass from your elbow. I am still working on the anus/ulnar distinction.

  14. Absolutely. It’s too cheap, and the tuition should be increased four- or five-fold.

    If JWatkins is correct, and I think that he probably is, then people choose BYU for reasons other than price, and demand is likely to be relatively inelastic, compared, say, to UVSC. So, an increase in price is not likely to result in as much drop in demand as an increase in price over at the Trade Tech.

    Having one daughter finishing at Bryn Mawr College this spring, and another a junior at McGill U (where it costs more for non-Canucks, dammit!), I have little sympathy for upper-middle class parents who spend under $3K a year on tuition.

    Raise the tuition, be generous with need-based financial aid (even if that results in net tuition receipts no greater than at present), and get rid entirely of any price-based incentive for students to go there.

    The other way to raise “price” is to require something of students after they graduate. How about a “service” requirement? If you graduate from BYU you’ll leave the comfort of the Wasatch Front/Idaho/California, and you’ll go contribute to the growth of the church somewhere you’re needed. If Brigham Young could call people to go colonize some miserable place like Las Vegas or San Bernardino, then why couldn’t the university that bears his name “call” upon its graduates to “colonize” some part of the world other than Sandy or Orem?

  15. Bob Caswell says:

    “How about a “service” requirement?”

    Boy, that would change the inelasticity quickly…

  16. H.L.,

    You are once again tilting at windmills if you think anything the brethern do will generate fewer complaints. How would I fill the hours then?

    One of my favorite things about BYU is that it is still possible to work your way through and emerge debt free. In a strange way I find that very reassuring–probably based on some hokey belief that if you work hard and try your best you can get a piece of the American dream.

    Low tuition also allows English and other similarly-economically-useless majors to choose an equally economically-useless course of graduate study instead of forcing them into something more practical.

  17. HL Rogers says:

    Just trying to give you something to do…

    Mark B.
    BYU already has a service requirement, remember the whole two best years of my life thing. You add more than that and the guys, instead of being in grad schools with people who were in Junior High when they graduated High school will now be in grad school with people the same age as their children. However, raising the “price” in some way may not be a bad idea.

    One tuition based change that I think would be interesting is to raise tuition and then offer need based scholarships only and in mass. Basically tax the wealthy to subsidize the poor students. Although, this would do little for demand it could raise a lot of extra capital and finally get the History department a new building.

    I’ve read Lord’s University. Mostly it is over-sensationalized pulp writing. However, the authors did have a few good sources it appears and so there are a couple historical insights you can’t readily find in other locales.

  18. Frank McIntyre says:

    The History department finally does have a new building.

    I would be interested in knowing why the Brethren keep tuition so low. Clearly it encourages BYU to have better students, by competing on academics and spirituality not cash, which is probably a stronger positive effect than having a low acceptance rate in terms of rankings.

    But it really is surprisingly low tuition for all students. There must be some pretty big perceived benefit to it that I am not catching, compared to the other uses for the tithing money. It seems very unlikely that the Church hasn’t thought this one through. President Hinckley, ever a stickler for careful budgeting, is not likely to forget about the millions of dollars that low tuition is costing the Church. In fact I seem to remember BYU’s cost coming up in a conference talk a few years back.

    And since a scholarship mechanism could keep tuition low for poor students anyway, it isn’t as if universla low tuition is a useful transfer to the poor members. Most BYU students, after all, are reasonably well off.

  19. HL,

    Let me clarify what I meant by “service”–I put it in quotation marks because I didn’t mean something in the sense of missionary work. Instead, get on with grad school, employment, etc., but do it outside the Mormon corridor. So, if you are from Sandy and want to go to BYU, you need to understand that you’ll spend some amount of time (5 years, maybe) out somewhere else–say, Hoboken–instead of settling back into a nice starter home at the point of the mountain. Or, if you want to opt out of that requirement, pay 3X tuition.

  20. I’m hesitant to agree with HL that complaints to general authorities is evidence of a below market rate of tuition. Isn’t it the case that BYU tuition is comparable to in-state tuition at schools like the University of Utah?

    I also wonder whether the low tuition isn’t necessary to entice students to attend. There are significant costs to attending BYU — mandatory religion classes, honor code, the contempt of random John… Low tuition is probably a key ingredient in many students’ choice to attend. A direct competitor such as the U of U or ASU has similar tuition, similar academic programs and similarly large LDS crowds. Raising BYU tuition to a level appreciably above these schools would probably put pressure on qualified applicants to look elsewhere. If you consider that the church has a substantial interest in educating its best and brightest in its own school, it would be expected that the school would offer an overall better product than its peers.

    It also seems to be the case that BYU law students love to brag about being able to attend higher ranked law schools but nonetheless choosing BYU for its low cost. If we believe that, it seems like low tuition is forced on the church more than we’d like to think.

  21. MarkB, please note that my middle income is not being spent on kids getting a cheap education from a church school. We encouraged them to do the basics at home while searching for the right guy to marry, then transfer to the cheap church school to finish undergrad studies. It has worked three times! We’re good! They’re paying for school themselves.

    Not to take it too lightly though. My students have worked hard, and yes there is a community service program here in California, at least in my neck of the woods. Kids can’t graduate high school without having at least 100 hours of community service every year of high school. So they’ve even done that.

  22. Marko, the honor code never kept you down, my man.

    But I agree — the low tuition is a BYU hallmark, a right members feel they have earned with their tithes. I wonder, however, whether cheap tuition is as important to the calculus as the social element, being with all those mormons and dating up a storm. Seems to me that was as important to me as any other factor.

  23. I’ve always thought that the church gets a pretty good return on it BYU graduates based on the theory that those who attend become further indoctrinated in Mormon theology and culture–thus making them more likely to pay tithing. Many (most?) also pick up a spouse who is similarly knee-deep in Mormonia and likely to keep their eternal companion on the straight an narrow.

    Without BYU who knows what I would be doing with that other 10% of my increase?

  24. I wonder if it would change the perception of how much price influences the decision to go to BYU if we compared it to other private religious universities instead of to cheap public universities like Utah and ASU. What does Notre Dame cost? Yeshiva in New York? I think they’re probably much closer $20,000+ per year. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I know many non-religous private universities are that much or more. That much of an increase would greatly affect demand, I’d think.

  25. I think the tuition could use for a bit of a hike, but not that big of one. But I say that just because I think BYU could use the money to improve the campus a bit. But I agree, the real issue isn’t cost. Further now that UVSC is turning nicely into a college where people can get the “BYU lite” experience without being stuck in the hinterlands of Ricks I think many are going there.

  26. I’d be happy to shift some of the burden of keeping BYU afloat from the tithepayers of the Church to the students, and their parents. Raising the price would have the following salutary effects:

    1) Students would finish faster. If another year at the old BY only sets you back $3K, hey, take your time, try another major, keep the course load light, work on your skiing, etc. etc. But if there were a significant financial cost to sticking around another year, people would move.

    2) People would value the experience more. A greater sacrifice for something may just increase the seriousness with which the students approach their work.

    3) The cost would be borne by those who directly benefitted from it, rather than by all tithepayers, an ever smaller percentage of whom will ever attend BYU.

    4) The wealthy would pay their fair share, and the non-wealthy could receive financial aid so they’d still be able to attend.

    5) LDS students could be encouraged (by their wallets, among other things) to choose other schools, allowing critical masses of LDS students to develop there, providing important social opportunities at those places.

  27. I guess I don’t really understand the question. How can a college education ever be to inexpensive? I wish that more quality schools would lower the rates so more people could afford to go.

    However, I guess you get what you pay for, and maybe you value it more if it is more costly.

  28. Tom Manney says:

    HL, your pity for the parents of the rejected is admirable, but I don’t see how raising tuition is the solution. Nor am I sure we need a solution. You can’t please everyone. Disappointment happens. I have heard the Brethren speak at length about why BYU is cheap, is not expanding, and is not going to be able to accomodate everyone. They have thought an awful lot about this, and although they have made it clear that they agonize over the many disappointed families whose children do not get in, they seem to be pretty comfortable with the status quo. They want to keep enrollment around 30,000. Kids who don’t get in are encouraged to use the Institute program at whatever school they go to. It’s not as if they’re shut out of the church.

    I think the backlash against the church from its own members would be far worse if tuition were jacked up to a level comparable with other private universities, because it would seem like middle and lower classes were being shut out. Can you begin to imagine how offensive that would be to vast numbers of the membership?

    The church has chosen to disappoint thousands based on lack of merit. Your suggestion is that they disappoint thousands based on lack of wealth. Which would be more unseemly for a Christian church? Just because we learned one trick in economics class to lower demand doesn’t mean it should be used in all cases of high demand. There is a moral dimension to economics that is all too easily forgotten by the well-off.

    But I don’t think the low price of tuition is a political consideration to keep the less affluent North American members content. I think it’s consistent with the purpose of the Perpetual Education Fund, which is designed to give members in poor parts of the world a chance at a better life. It would be hypocritical of the church to seek donations on behalf of the foreign poor while at the same time thumbing their noses at the educational prospects of the domestic poor.

    All of that being said, Mark B., if tuition had cost more, I would have completed my Bachelor’s at BYU in far less than the seven years I actually spent. It’s hard not to take other’s charity for granted.

  29. There are lots and lots of institutional problems with the “high tuition balanced out by financial aid” approach. In theory, BYU has always had that approach, mixed with merit. In practice … well, two kids from my ward went to BYU on scholarship. I did. So did another kid whose father made multiples of what my dad did. Of course his grades and test scores were lower and his grades at BYU were lower.

    He got more money, at the end of the first year, my scholarship was terminated and his was continued. (In fact, BYU used to lead the nation in scholarships granted and not continued as one of their recruiting tools).

    In addition, families engage in a number of activities used to game financial aid.

    I would suggest, based on my own ancedotal evidence (and remember, ancedotal evidence = probably false) and on the growing weight of academic experience, that the method used at many other schools of higher tuition and more financial aid has extreme drawbacks and issues.

  30. a random John says:


    I don’t hold anyone in contempt for attending the Y. Many family members and good friends have done so and I don’t think less of them for it. I guess if I am being really honest I do think that if you got in to certain other schools (and one school in particular) and still go the Y then I might question your decision. Also, I might hold you in contempt if I don’t like your thoughts on the honor code…

  31. This may be an obnoxious question, but how much tithing money goes to fund BYU? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention when this was mentioned in Sunday School (joke), but I, a life-long active member, but non-BYU grad, found out only a few years ago that tithing contributions go to subsidize BYU (I guess I’d never given it much thought before).

    Never got the whole story, though – so, just wondering if anyone out there has information on the gap between tuition rates and tithing subsidization?


  32. random John — My comment about you was just teasing. I hope you realize, though, that based on a letter I received yesterday, the BYU alumni association automobile insurance discount program that could save you over $300 per year is out of your reach because you chose Stanford. Can you say that you factored that into your decision on where to go to college?

  33. Last lemming says:

    A couple of disjointed thoughts:

    1. It is seriously misguided to think that by raising BYU tuition, the church would receive fewer complaints. The first rule of raising tuition is “Be prepared for an avalanche of complaints.”

    2. Converting Ricks into a 4-year school reduced the number of slots available at church universities. The absence of a junior or senior class then allowed the freshman class to be twice the size it is now.

    3. Many of the problems with using financial aid to offset the effect of a tuition increase on lower-income students (referring to the comments of Ethesis) could be overcome by making the price discrimination transparent. If a magic formula accounting for income and family size comes out X, then your tuition is Y. They would not even have to rely on the FAFSA. The information could be supplied by the bishop on his recommendation form. (Of course, a nontransparent financial aid process would inevitably survive to handle “special cases.”)

    4. I like Mark B.’s “service” requirement idea.

  34. Bob Caswell says:

    Even if “service requirement” is in quotes, it still doesn’t nullify the paradox of having service be a requirement. I don’t like the idea.

  35. JWatkins says:

    I think that Mark B’s 5 reasons sound great in theory but would fail in practie and I think that Ethesis is on the right track as to why. BYU’s current financial need scholarship program stinks. My apologies in advance if I share too personal a story to help prove this point. My wife comes from a family of 9, big even by LDS standards. This also happens to be a broken home, her mom is single and was raising 4 of the said children on Canadian welfare, not an easy task (the exchange rate was even worse back then)the entire time she was in school. My wife never recieved a single need based scholarship in her entire time here even though I can hardly think of a more needy situation. I have been denied need based scholarships too even though my parents make a humble wage and at one time were supporting 3 missionaries simultaneously for an entire year. I have a hard time putting any faith in the BYU beaurocracy to successfully distribute money to those who need it, much like Ethesis’ complaint. Maybe Mark B’s idea would work in a perfect world but with the reality of BYU’s administration, there isn’t a chance in the world it would work like it’s supposed to. I’ve noticed that this is sometimes true of the church’s welfare distribution system too.

  36. a random John says:


    Given that my wife did ROTC we get insurance from USAA, which has super-low rates. Of course there is no such thing as super-low rates here in Boston.

    In any case, if finances are the question, and they’re not, I am sure that the additional money I make because of where I went to school offsets the $300 per year I could have saved. However I am a good example of how the Y could increase tution without killing anyone. I got minimal financial help from my parents and have paid for my school through a few scholarships and lots of loans. I am also paying for my wife’s undergrad since she disenrolled from ROTC after they decided to keep her captive for the 8 to 12 years after college. Yet even when burdened with paying off two expensive educations I am getting by ok. I am not saying this to show off, but to show that even someone who comes from a modest background can invest in their education.

  37. OK, Bob, I used the wrong word. I don’t mean “service” in the sense of giving freely of one’s time out of the goodness of his heart. What I had in mind was more like the commitment that a graduate of the military academies undertakes–to serve in the army or navy for a period of time, as pay for the free education that he or she received. So, too, BYU graduates should be invited to make such a commitment to leave the Mormon corridor and go build the church elsewhere.

  38. a random John says:

    Mark B.

    Wouldn’t the church be better served by asking exceptional students to leave the Mormon corridor for school as well?

  39. Christina says:

    I’m with random John, our experiences at that school are probably similar. I do not come from a wealthy background, and my parents did not pay much for me to go to Stanford (they had four children in college or on missions at the time). I took out loans, got great financial aid and some scholarships, and of course, I worked at many jobs along the way. I paid off my undergraduate loans when I had my summer internship in law school. Now, of course, I have my much-more-burdensome law school loans, but I will manage those some way or other as well.

    I think the notion that only the wealthy can afford to go to a top school comes from a state of unfortunate ignorance. It is lovely that BYU is so cheap, but I think this fact teaches students to not invest in a better quality education or to not think it is necessary.

  40. Tom Manney says:

    Tess, I’m not sure where I heard this, but I have a vague notion that the Church foots about 70% of BYU’s bill. Of course that doesn’t mean tuition covers the other 30 — I don’t know how much of a difference donations make.

  41. Thanks, Tom! I was afraid I had asked one of those “don’t ask, don’t tell” questions and offended everyone on the thread.

    It wasn’t until I found out that tithing supported BYU that I understood why some parents were so upset that their children had been rejected from BYU.

    For better or worse, I guess if you had been a full tithe payer your whole life, you might feel entitled to have your children educated at BYU.

    Thanks again for responding.

  42. random John:

    I agree that the Church would be served by having exceptional students go to school elsewhere. I think that raising tuition at BYU would remove one factor that may tip the scales for some of those students in favor of BYU.

    I’m trying to do my part, by the way, by sending one exceptional daughter to Bryn Mawr, and another exceptional daughter to McGill.

  43. a random John says:

    Mark B.

    Good point. If it cost about the same to go to an elite school or BYU and you got in to both, you’d have to really want to be zoobie to go to the Y.

  44. Last lemming says:

    There was a kid in my ward in the early 90′s who got a full music scholarship to Carnegie-Mellon and he turned it down to go to Ricks. Aaaaaaaugh!

  45. Christina,

    You’re making the assumption that a better education than that provided at BYU can be had. I would lay money on the quality student over the elite university every time.

    If you are concerned about earning power immediately following graduation, however, then I would take the university with the better reputation.

  46. Mathew,

    I think that we are assuming a quality student here, unless both BYU and the elite university have made a mistake in admitting them. One of them would have to have made a bigger mistake than the other. Also, I am not sure what point you are making by saying that you would “lay your money” on the quality student. In any case, all other things being equal, I would think that the majority of quality Mormon students would get more academically out of going to an elite school. However college isn’t only about what you get out of it academically so there are people like the kid that Last lemming mentioned above that decide that BYU is the overall best place for them. This can be a valid decision. It is certainly for reasons beyond pure academics that I am glad that I went were I did.

  47. a random John,

    Why would a majority of quality Mormon students get more academically out of going to an elite school? This is far from self-evident to me.

    BTW, instead of pussy-footing around it, just say you went to Stanford–not that much baggage comes with the name:)

  48. Bob Caswell says:

    “Why would a majority of quality Mormon students get more academically out of going to an elite school? This is far from self-evident to me.”

    Have you been to BYU lately? I have. The opposite of what you say is far from self-evident to me (i.e. that Mormon students get just as much or perhaps even more out of BYU than elite schools). I know that’s not what you said, but I just wanted to clarify that I probably disagree if that’s what you meant to imply.

  49. Wow. So chalk one more person up in favor of insane student loan debts, eh?

    The only reason I didn’t go to BYU instead of Ohio State is because my dad would have freaked out, and I was 16 (and thus the custody arrangement from the divorce was still in force, yay.) From the perspective of now having just under $40k in debt, consider this one vote in opposition to raising the cost at one of the few affordable universities left.

  50. a random John says:


    In my coversations with BYU students (some of whom I regards to be smarter than I am) that were in the same major we compared what was studied in each of the various courses. They told me that the coursework at BYU was significantly less challenging. Of course this freed them up to pursue multiple minors and what-not, so perhaps the less challenging work gave them more of a chance to have more breadth. But are there that many people at BYU that receive two or more minors?

  51. Bob Caswell says:


    The fact that you were able to attend Ohio State shows that it was affordable (and that BYU is really affordable). It’d be nice if “affordable” meant no debt or less than $40k of debt, but until BYU raises their rates to the point that students like you would have no method of borrowing the necessary means, then it’s still pretty darn affordable.

  52. At the risk of posting on an almost dead string, I’d like to respond to Mark B.’s benefits of higher tuition (cmt #26). Let me start by tipping my hand in saying that I think BYU tuition is not set too low.

    1. Students would finish faster — This may be the only point I agree with, although the remedy may be to impose higher tuition costs on students in their fifth year of a bachelor’s degree rather than to impose this cost on all students regardless of whether or not the student finishes in four years.

    2. Students would value the experience more — This doesn’t give BYU students enough credit. I am more inclined to believe that the lower cost makes students value the experience more because it drives the point home that the sacrifices of others have made it possible for the student to attend. Raising costs may just result in a greater sense of entitlement.

    3. Cost shifts from tithepayers to students — I think this looks at tithes from the wrong perspective. The church is not a conduit for members to channel charitable contributions. Tithes are irrevocable and unrestricted donations to an organization. Once in possession, the organization deploys its resources to get the best return. It seems perfectly reasonable for me to believe that the church believes it gets good returns by investing in its university. The fact that tithepayers think the money is somehow still theirs is misguided.

    4. Wealthy pay their fair share — This would only makes sense to me if the current tuition burden prohibited lower income students from attending. If tuition is already low enough that virtually anyone can attend without too much financial burden, the fairness argument rings hollow.

    5. LDS students encouraged to attend other schools — The fact that thousands apply to BYU and are rejected indicates to me that we don’t need additional incentives to have students attend elsewhere. Demand already exceeds supply, so the excess demand is forced to attend other schools. The only way I see you could implement this point is to reduce the total numbers of incoming students at BYU or raise tuition to the point that supply exceeds demand.

  53. Mat — I’m curious about how would you contrast your undergrad experience with your law school experience? Would that be a good proxy to answer your question?

  54. Christina says:

    I don’t know if you or I could fairly discuss the BYU vs. Stanford/any other “elite” school distinction because neither of us attended both for undergrad. My observation, however, is that, among other things, BYU is much easier academically, it doesn’t provide the same density of high-achieving students as you would find at an elite university (which has as much impact as any factor on a student’s personal growth and satisfaction), and it doesn’t have the same quality of professors. Don’t use your Harvard law school experience to compare. I was sorely disappointed with my “elite” law school education, and I don’t think it is a fair comparison at all to undergrad. I think BYU is a fine place for a lot of people. But I fail to grasp why very high-achieving students choose it over better schools. And don’t call me elitist- hands down Mat is much smarter than I am. I just got lucky in getting into college, but I am eternally grateful for it.

  55. Bob,

    What I meant to say is that a large cross-section of quality students will get the same academically out of BYU as they will at an elite university. Of course this is a completely unsupported opinion–I don’t now how you would go about measuring such a thing. One study that received much press a year or two ago, however, found that people who scored similarly on the SAT made about the same amount of money after they had been working for several years.

    a Random John,

    Don’t get me wrong–I have long thought of Stanford as a sort of idyllic paradise and have told my wife several times I would love it if our kids went there for undergrad. But most of that has to do with the location, the administration of the university and the national reputation.

    A quality student can easily find friends who are every bit at intelligent, well-read and serious about academics as anyone at Stanford. I think Stanford has overall better professors–BYU has a lot of great professors, but the faculty is overall of uneven quality. I shouldn’t be hard, however, for a quality student to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Since we are both just giving our opinion here, we may never find grounds to agree. But there is no doubt in my mind the biggest advantage that elite universities have vis-a-vis BYU undergrad is their reputational advantage, not any academic advantage. The funny thing is–although this is patently obvious to me and, I believe, most people, it is the thing at which students of elite institutions take the most umbrage. They seem to view any suggestion that reputational value of a school influenced their decision as impugning the purity of their motives.

  56. Bob Caswell says:

    “They seem to view any suggestion that reputational value of a school influenced their decision as impugning the purity of their motives.”

    If so, let it be known that my motives are entirely impure [in this context]. :-)

  57. Christina,

    Thanks for your kind words; I’m glad to see you haven’t taken my jabs at you personally (you and I share, I think, a hot temper).

    I can’t comment on whether BYU is easier academically. If it is, then even a superior student might find himself getting lazy and gravitating to the mean.

    As long as we are relying on anecdotal evidence, I don’t think my time at HLS is irrelevant to the question. I quickly saw that I was no worse educated than most of the students from elite schools (probably better than those who attended Brown:>). From the first day my classmates who attended BYU stacked up favorably next to our counterparts educated at elite universities.

    I agree that a student who is admitted to BYU and Stanford usually isn’t doing herself any favors by attending BYU, but I see the biggest harm is losing the reputational advantages associated with Stanford, not the difference in education itself.

  58. Christina says:

    As to reputational advantage, I think the law school connection to BYU is a unique one. Both HLS and CLS favor BYU grads and accept them in disproportionately high numbers for the school’s status. There is nothing wrong with that, but it may not translate into other graduate programs. That is, I’m not sure that chemistry students from BYU can get into PhD programs with the same facility they would have had they gone to CalTech undergrad.

    In any case, my perspective doesn’t hang on the reputational issue. Rather, I discovered when I went to S for undergrad an entire world of brilliant, motivated people who changed the way I saw the world and myself. My anecdotal experience is that this is what others at top schools experience in college, not necessarily what others do. I just don’t think I would be where I am today without that experience. You are clearly more personally motivated/smarter/better looking than I am, because you managed all your accomplishments without that type of undergrad experience. I just know I couldn’t have.

    By the way, now that I have stopped globe trotting, M and I miss you guys, when are we going to see you?

  59. HL Rogers says:

    Perhaps we have wandered too far out into the anecdotal to come to any valuable conclusions. However, I do see a portion of the debate being: finding the school that fits you best. I wanted an undergrad experience with a large group of intelligent LDS students. I got that. I had to at times wade through the large groups of LDS students who were at BYU even though they found the very idea of university education antithema to the gospel but I assume all of us had to deal with students and faculty whose worldview was opposed to our own.

    I also don’t think HLS and CLS are such outliers on the BYU acceptance spectrum. I know Yale’s literature, humanities, comparative lit grad programs look to BYU. I think a lot of higher end grad programs do the same. While BYU might be at a disadvantage in the sciences for various and unique reasons I think it competes well in other areas. I have alsways thought of BYU as a Notre Dame in that it not only attracts students it has no right to attract (based on national rankings etc.) it also attracts professors it has no right to attract, which gives it an edge.

    Or perhaps I am so completely biased that I am incapable of reaching a rational conclusion on this issue.

    Also, what do you look like if you’re less-attractive than Mat. I find such a physical state almost unimaginable.

  60. Christina,

    My argument does not deal with how many BYU grads are admitted to HLS or CLS, but rather that graduates of BYU stack up well against graduates of Stanford, Yale et al once they are all on common ground–both at matriculation and when they directly compete. I offer this observation as correlation to rather than proof of my theory.

    You say that when you went to Stanford you discovered an amazing world. I have no doubt this is true–everyone I know who went to Stanford undergrad says the same thing. Like I said–paradise.

    Maybe we should make another attempt at a trip together? The weekend of the 6th? We could invite the Evans–I don’t like them either, but they have a car.

  61. Christina says:

    Let’s leave the Stanford/BYU debate to lie (I know you’re just jealous anyway).

    We are going to Delaware that weekend to see my parents, so that won’t work, unless you want to check out the wonders of Wilmington … but we are definitely up for a trip. As for the Evans family, we must take pity and include them in our activities. Heaven knows they wouldn’t have a social life without us.

  62. i think that it’s way too expensive, especially for people who are going into professional careers where they’ll make good money. sure you only pay $3,500 or so per year while you’re there, but it’s a good investment for the church. they have control over your indoctrination and get 10% (of your gross if they’ve done a good job of conditioning you) for the rest of your life.

    let’s do some financial equations. let’s say someone graduates from byu at age 24. they start earning $40,000/yr, and we’ll assume that their earnings will grow at 5%/yr (quite modest growth for many people). and they pay tithing on their gross, or $4,000 the first year, and work for 40 years until they retire at 64. we’ll use 6% as the church’s discount rate, or the return they could reasonably expect on money they invest (again this is a conservative estimate). the present value of this cashflow to the church is nearly $133,000. and that doesn’t include any extra donations the person might make during their life, and any tithing they may pay on earnings after they retire. and this for only about $40,000 at most in subsidies for their four year byu education.

    now if the person graduates from law school, and makes $85,000 starting out and works for only 30 years, but gets 8% income growth the present value would be $345,000. not a bad return on the church’s investment, eh?

  63. Christina, you know I look to you for all things social. Care to come running tomorrow? We’ve got a 90-minute run starting around noon…

  64. HL Rogers says:

    Don’t you guys have email??

  65. Christina says:

    Steve, I did my ten-miler this morning, but I could be persuaded to run tomorrow … where are you going? I’m tutoring at 10, so should be done my noon.

  66. a random John says:


    You can keep up with Christina? I am impressed.


    I guess I should explain my motives in deciding where to go to college. I am going to sound like an ass, so please know that I am aware of that while you read this and think, “Boy, what an arrogant ass.” When I was a freshman in high school many of my classes were with seniors. I did as well as any of the seniors. When I was a sophomore, again, I was taking AP classes with seniors and I was often the best student in the class. Repeat this for two more years, but it just got worse each time. The students I was going to class with were getting scholarships to BYU. When it was time to decide where to go to college I was sick of feeling like my peers were holding me back. I did a summer program at BYU, which was supposed to be the best of the best of potential BYU student. They made it clear that the caliber of students was comparable with the BYU Honors Program. Again I felt like I was not in the right place.

    I decided to go to Stanford because I wanted to have peers that were peers. That could challenge me and even help me. Yes I could have found people like that at BYU but I knew that I wouldn’t be surrounded by them. It was an amazing experience to finally be able to feel “normal”. I was pushed to work hard. There were finally subjects that I didn’t do well in. It was great.

    Maybe I just wanted to be a little fish in a big pond. I understand that what I have written above is probably offensive. Again, I know that lots of people smarter than me go to the Y. At the time though, I felt like it would be the wrong place for me.

  67. I have not had time to read all the comments, but a quick browse and a “Ctrl+F” has uncovered only one mention of price discrimination, at least in its proper label. It really is sad if/that only one person remotely acknowledges through their comments that this issue is fundamentally one of the benefits of price discrimination. This, a fundamental model in microeconomics, is used by the great universities of our country (like Harvard, Yale, etc.) These people are not stupid and they recognize that they can acheive price discrimination by having larger tuitions, and lowering costs via financial aid based on academic potential/performance. BYU could rely MUCH less on tithing funds if many of the “rich kids from California” type had to pay what they were willing to pay (which is a lot these days, given the high income of their parents and their parents’ great desire to have their children attend BYU). Many of our students could simply benefit from much larger scholarships. The key is to find what the relevant demand (willingness to pay) conditions are in order to effectively price discriminate. This may be harder or easier than it sounds, but it is certainly possible and worth it. Right now, the only reason a fellow (and more superior) economics student can find as to why we do not price discriminate is because we do not want to look “greedy”. Harvard doesn’t look greedy to me, they look smart because they effectively institute price discrimination, thus eliminating deadweight loss and maximizing total surplus in the market for a Harvard education. The same SHOULD be true for the market for a BYU education, in my humble opinion. If anything, higher tuition rates would make us look more like a top-notch university, not only because it looks like it costs more, but also because we are intelligent enough to recognize the benefits of price discrimination.

  68. a random John says:

    Re-reading my last post it is clear to me that I was expressing my desire to feel a degree of normalcy. I am sure that for many LDS students they go to BYU for this very reason. Given that I grew up on the Wasatch Front, being surrounded by LDS students wasn’t a priority for me. I was willing to have to seek them out in college. In fact, meeting people with different viewpoints and backgrounds was a priority. For LDS students who spend high school as the only LDS student in their school I can see how going to BYU might be a great relief. It is nice to have a break from being in a misunderstood minority. However if you grow up in Provo and still need the BYU experience then there must be something else that is drawing you to BYU.

  69. Dead thread, but since I’m seeing (skimming) it for the first time, my $.02: The quality of BYU education seems to vary significantly by department. I went through BYU’s economics program and, in comparing it to other programs, realize I easily got as good of an education if not better as students attending top schools (incl. ivy league & Standford). However, now I teach finance at BYU and would say there’s definitely a gap in quality and difficulty (despite my best efforts!)….

  70. a random John says:


    There are a lot of intangibles to a Standford [sic] or Ivy League education that are different from the intagibles of a BYU education. I don’t doubt that individual students come out of many BYU programs as prepared form grad work as the students from elite schools. However I do think that it is pushing it to say that the overall program is better than that of an elite school. To put it crudely, the top 25% of students at the Y would be the bottom 25% at an elite school. This drags a program down.

  71. ARJ, I think you are underrating the top BYU students by a lot, but you do have a point. And you’re talking about truly “elite” schools like Ivy’s and Stanford. I think many BYU programs stack up quite well against other top schools, such as top state schools.

    And I’m not sure economics at Stanford is so great, either. I think it’s a bit of a bottom-feeder major (based as my experience as a TA). Something like computer science will be a completely different story.

  72. a random John says:

    I agree that I was overly harsh. The top, say 5% (maybe 2%?) of BYU students compare to students anywhere. That said the rest of the top 25% would be hard pressed to get in.

    I never thought of econ as a bottom feeder major and in fact know somebody that had a 4.0 at Ricks that couldn’t hack it. Psych and Comm though…

  73. Issue #1: Tithing isn’t a co-op. We pay it because it’s a commandment, not because it entitles us to certain rights (like go to BYU). If the church put the money on an alter and burned it up, I would still gladly pay it. You’re completely missing the point of tithing if you look at or try to second-guess what the Church should do with it. Having said that, I’m very thankful for the bounty that we have in the Church that allows us to have temples, meeting houses, offerings to the poor, and yes, BYU. Those who consider themselves a resource of the Church should probably turn their critical eye inward and make sure they are making the best of their time, talents, and energy that they have consecrated to the cause rather than arm-chair quarterback the leadership.

    Issue #2: Education is about what you put into it. I went to Utah State, where I built an experiment that flew on the Space Shuttle. That was a pretty cool experience that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. USU is not as “good” as the U or BYU according to the rakings, and it’s not an elite school, but I had a wonderful experience there and learned a lot. I was fortunate to go there. Professors paid a lot more attention to me at USU than they would if I were at a “better” place. For graduate school, I went to Indiana University. It was a lot harder than Utah State. Not because of the professors, but because of the competition in the classroom. The students were better and I had to work harder to keep up. Having said that, the professors are, on average, much better scholars, but that doesn’t even come into play until you start doing research or taking 600-level or higher courses. In fact, a lesser scholar may-well be a better teacher, and in fact often is (probably because they struggled more to understand it and thus relate better to the students).

    Issue #3: I made the decision not to go to BYU by graduating from high school with a 2.7 gpa. It’s not the Church’s fault that I was a goof-off. I accept responsibility for being a bad student. I knew what was required to get in. Those who want to get in to BYU need to work harder.

    Issue #4: I also spent some time at Ohio State. Go Bucks! Ohio State is a great place. Different schools have different strengths, and it’s hard to judge which schools are better overall, when you consider their differences. OSU is the biggest campus in the country. That’s both good and bad, depending on what you want out of your education. If you go to a big place like that, you’ve proven something about your self-structure and ability to survive that you don’t get at a small quaint place where you get spoon-fed. It’s a totally different experience than what one would get at a liberal arts school, or an elite place. Also at a place like that, there’s a full spectrum of opportunities from which you can sample, and a full range of talent–the best students there are as good as any other place—same as with BYU. Besides, it’s got a top notch football program, and that’s what’s really important.

    Issue #5: BYU is a special place. It, and the other CES organizations, serves an important purpose in the Church. It doesn’t mean that you’re not valuable to the Cause of Zion, or anything like that if you don’t get in. They can’t let everyone in, and at the end of the day the people in the admissions office have to make tough decisions, which may or may not prove to be optimal. There are loopholes to getting in if you’re determined, however. Go to UVSC or BYUI for a couple of years, for example, and then transfer. Take night or independent study classes at BYU and prove yourself and then transfer as a full-time student. The administration at BYU tries to stretch the dollars they have to let as many people in as they can. The Church has other things to spend its money on (temples, meeting houses, humanitarian aid, etc) and so they have decided not to expend BYU. But they are committed to trying to make it the best place they can, given their unique objectives and limited resources.

    Issue #6: Notre Dame’s tuition is over 30k/year. Other religious schools like SMU, Baylor, and Pepperdine vary between 21-31k/year. While BYU doesn’t publish its numbers, based on similarly sized schools, it probably costs the Church about 12k/student per year (yes that’s tithing money). BYU’s endowment is 500M. The interest on that is about 50M, which is probably around 8% of the entire budget. By contrast Notre Dame’s endowment is about 3B. Incidentally, BYU is not interested in increasing its endowment to be on par with major schools because the Church wants to be the one that feeds the university. President Samuelson commented at the last University Conference (in Aug05) that the university already had more external funding that it was comfortable with. With external funding comes external control. BYU isn’t interested in external control. BYU is, in fact, the only major religious university that is completely controlled by its sponsoring organization. The others mentioned above are almost secular, and are thus paid for by high tuition and the endowment.

    Issue #7: Church members are agents unto themselves. Those who have consecrated themselves are stewards of their own time, talents, and resources and should view themselves as such. They are to contribute to the cause as directed by the Spirit. Perhaps one day the church will take a more “day-to-day” role in guiding the specific details of its members lives, say toward the very end or something (united order), but currently, people should take it upon themselves to make their own decisions about such matters with an eye toward the eternal principles and guidelines set forth by the Gospel and our leadership. The goal is to build His kingdom as best we can. If you see the need to live in a specific place, seek the direction of the Spirit in making a decision. It is not currently the church’s purview to tell people where to live, what to major in, who to marry, and what to do with your free time.

    Issue #8: We need to remember that a lot of the students at BYU are married with little babies. It’s common for parents to financially cut-off their married children (I was cut off long before I was married). Hence, there’s a need for low-cost tuition for married students who are poor and struggling to get by.


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