An Economic Explanation for BYU-I’s Dress Standards(?)

Ashton Kutcher couldn't walk around BYU-I like that.

Ashton Kutcher couldn’t walk around BYU-I like that.

As Steve highlighted earlier today,[fn1] the BYU-Idaho dress and grooming standards are arbitrary and relatively absurd. I mean, seriously, as a born-and-raised Californian, I can’t comprehend a dress code that bans flip-flops.[fn2] The dress and grooming standards can’t be all about modesty, because ankles and toes and beards, oh my! And if all they’re about is obedience, well, that’s stupid. There’s no spiritual value to obeying arbitrary rules.[fn3]

But maybe their actual function isn’t modesty. Or obedience. May it’s economics. 

The idea that the dress and grooming standards are about something other than dress and grooming isn’t new to me, of course. Nate Oman has famously posited that BYU’s dress and grooming standards allow for virtually costless rebellion (tl;dr: because the harm of violating those standards—and thus becoming a rebel—is far lower than the harm of, e.g., smoking or drinking).

But if that’s the primary purpose, BYU-I could easily adopt BYU’s much-less-strict rules; rebelling by not shaving for three days or by wearing shorts an inch above the knees is plenty easy. BYU-I students don’t need tighter restrictions to facilitate harmless rebellion.

BYU-I’s official mission statement includes providing “a quality education for students of diverse interests and abilities.” Its Pathway program is designed to provide a college education for nontraditional students who otherwise might not be able to finish a degree. And, anecdotally, I’ve seen BYU-I as being an invaluable resource for kids who otherwise may not have attended college.[fn4]

But there are a couple things that could potentially get in its way: first, BYU-I’s tuition is negligible: last year, its tuition and fees were less than $4,000 a year. That same year, the average tuition and fees for a private college were just over $30,000 a year, and just under $9,000 for in-state tuition at a state school.

That kind of tuition is tremendously attractive; theoretically, then, it should be attracting lots of applicants. Lots of applicants, though, means better students could begin to crowd out the students that BYU-I can best help. See, BYU-I accepted 99.6% of applicants in 2013. That 99.6% acceptance rate provides a student body of about 15,000 students.

I don’t have any idea what BYU-I’s capacity is, but presumably, it can’t scale up costlessly and instantly. As long as it wants to serve underserved populations, keep low tuition, and keep a high acceptance rate, then, it needs to impose some sort of cost that discourages a too-large applicant class.

Enter stupid dress and grooming rules. That is, now prospective students have to weigh the low tuition and the virtual assurance of being accepted against how much they like to wear flip-flops and capris.[fn5] The dress and grooming standards impose a steep, but non-financial, cost on attending BYU-I. Students who value their choice of clothing have to weigh the restrictions against how much they value their money. And, virtually costlessly, BYU-I can keep its high acceptance rate and its ability to reach the students it wants without being out of reach for anybody.

Which transforms the dress and grooming standards from whitewashed sepulchral rules into rational cost controls. Which I like.

[fn1] Also, darn you Steve for getting to this before me. That’s what I get for going raspberry picking. That, and delicious, delicious raspberries.

[fn2] Though apparently they’re shoes-non-grata at my daughter’s elementary school, too. Which I also can’t comprehend.

[fn3] And don’t bother trying to argue this. Because it’s dumb. There is no–absolutely none—spiritual benefit to obeying dumb rules just because they’re rules.

[fn4] Clearly, BYU-I isn’t only for non-traditional and struggling students. It provides a special service to those students, though, and I see those students as being central to its core mission.

[fn5] And, for the record, I’m not a big fan of wearing capris myself.


  1. The eyes of my understanding have been enlightened.

  2. Even assuming there is some basis to your economics argument, are we really doing a service to the “underserved populations” in our church by providing them an education at an institution where the academic admission standards are so low that a house plant can be accepted? If you believe, as I do, that a degree from certain institutions is of much greater value than one from certain others, exactly what is the market value today of a degree from BYU-I, especially given the state of our economy and the competitiveness of the job market? Sure the tuition is low, but wouldn’t many of these students be better off not incurring the expense of room and board and tuition (even if it is modest)—and four years of their lives—and, instead, pursue vocational training or some other job training program?

    Further, if such a nefarious motive for the dress and grooming standards does exist, it would seem to suggest that the church is exalting mindless conformity and a second-rate education for the less privileged over academic rigor and intellectual integrity.

  3. Kyle, always glad to help.

    FarSide, I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that BYU-I offers a second-rate education. It’s not a research institution, but it doesn’t try to be. From what I’ve seen, it does an admirable job fulfilling what appears to be its mission: to provide a quality education to students. It’s not Harvard, but most schools aren’t.

    As for methods of keeping costs down, stupid and pointless rules are a pretty harmless method.

  4. “If you believe, as I do, that a degree from certain institutions is of much greater value than one from certain others, exactly what is the market value today of a degree from BYU-I, especially given the state of our economy and the competitiveness of the job market?”

    I think you greatly overestimate the importance of the school when it comes to your basic 4-year business degree. The quality of school would come into play much more with graduate degrees, which BYU-I does not offer. For most employers, a bachelor’s degree is a bachelor’s degree.

  5. The problem is that every decent reason to have the dress code at either/any BYU school is a post-hoc explanation of an unintended benefit, and not the actual reason why those schools have their dress codes. They have the dress codes because politically conservative zealots in the late 60s and early 70s hated their classmates and, with the help of people like Ernie Wilkinson, got their political and social views institutionalized. That there are unintended, academically-interesting potential benefits should be irrelevant to how people regard the rules.

    And yeah, the notion that blessings flow from obeying rules no matter what the rules are is, as they say “not even wrong.”

  6. Sam, the Atlantic recently ran an excellent article about the proliferation in recent years of new law schools designed to cater to those who couldn’t get into one of the decent schools with an established reputation. And, no, I’m not talking about Harvard here; rather, I’m referring to any of the 75 highest ranked law schools in the country.

    Now, guess how much success the graduates of these fourth-tier schools have had in getting jobs? Very, very little.

    Whether it is fair or not, a school’s reputation depends, to a significant degree, on the academic caliber of its students. And that reputation will dictate, to a significant degree, whether those students can get a job or obtain admission to a quality professional school or graduate degree program.

    Simply providing a “quality education” is not enough. We as a society and as a church cannot afford to pay for people to attend four years of college unless that education is likely to translate into better career prospects and citizens who can contribute more to our communities. Any other approach does a disservice to both those who are funding the education subsidies and the recipients of that financial assistance.

    Those who were beguiled into attending second-rate law schools have learned this lesson the hard way. Is BYU-I repeating that mistake?

  7. Listen, this was all my fault: I walked across campus with my pants rolled 8 inches above my ankles. Someone told me Rexburg girls love catching a glimpse of leg hair.

  8. So it’s kind of like the bar exam? A pointless requirement that doesn’t tell you much about the person’s abilities, but the difficulty of which makes people less likely to want gain entrance into the club?

  9. Last Lemming says:

    This is a potentially testable hypothesis. One would need time series of the following variables (at least):

    number of applicants to BYU-I
    number of seminary graduates (the primary pool of potential applicants)
    number accepted at BYU-Provo
    tuition at BYU-I
    average in-state tuition at state-supported institutions
    changes to the honor code (1=tougher,-1=looser,0=no change)

    Somebody point me to the data, and I’ll construct a first-differences model and see if that last one is significant.

  10. Awesome, LL. When you get the data, I totally want to see your test!

    FarSide, I’m familiar with the Atlantic article (and I might take issue with your descriptor of “excellent”). It’s far, far afield of the point of the OP and not really worth pursuing, but let’s just say that there’s a significant difference between law schools and undergrad institutions, and even moreso between for-profit law schools that charge $40,000/year and nonprofit universities that charge $4,000/year.

  11. So, I don’t mean to offend with this comment, but I’ve always kind of thought that the stricter rules at BYU-Idaho were a form of institutional judgement imposed on the types of students who go to BYU-I. The kids who try hard and do well in school get to go to BYU-Provo, where things aren’t quite so draconian. The kids who goof-off and mess up, then get forced to going to a church school by their parents have to live by super-strict rules.

    I realize this might not be a totally fair assessment, but that’s always I’ve interpreted the difference. It’s a punishment for not being good enough for Provo.

  12. Sam, this gives those in charge way too much credit. I would bet large amounts of money that none of these rationales has ever seriously been considered one of the principal motivations behind the dress and grooming standards by the powers that be.

  13. This is a classic technique (though using different factors) in business hiring when supply greatly exceeds demand. Never thought of it as applying to the dress code at the BYUs, though.

  14. Yes, that is not a fair assessment, Megan. That may be true for some of them, but every BYU-I student who has gone out from my area has been a good kid who worked hard in school but didn’t test well enough or get high enough grades to go to Provo. They go since it’s a backup for not getting into Provo and because of the high concentration of other LDS students and the clean (safe) college environment. And of course cost is a factor as well, but definitely not the only factor.

  15. Considering the “powers that be” tend to be businessmen of some sort with a decent grasp on economics, I think your theory is fairly sound.

    It would also explain why the standards are different there than they are at the other BYU campuses.

  16. I’m with Megan here. The stricter rules are due to less trust of the students by the institution. They’re treating them like children and telling them it is because the stricter “honor” code is because they’re more honorable. Everyone I’ve spoken to (this is not a large enough number to be statistically significant) that attended Rick’s/BYU-I was under the impression that they had a “better” honor code than those heathens at BYU. The fact that some people believe this says something.

  17. John, what it says is there’s self-selection in who chooses to attend.

  18. John, I attended Ricks College for a year then transferred to BYU (Provo). I have never been under the impression that Ricks/BYU-I had a “better” honor code than BYU or that it is more honorable. So you can add me to your pool of data and stop saying “everyone [you’ve] ever spoken to that attended” BYU-I thought that way.

  19. Last Lemming’s analysis only estimates the elasticity of honor code changes, not whether the honor code itself is consistent with Sam’s hypothesis. The dress code could result in behavior Sam describes while changes in the honor code may not. Since the hypothesis is about the code itself and not its elasticity, an alternative test would be obtained by sampling from the primary pool of potential applicants, asking whether they would attend if accepted. Regardless of their answer, have the sample respond to a checklist of factors that contributed to their answer and test whether dress code contributed to the decision not to attend at a rate great than expected by chance. Granted, this only tests intentions and not behavior (while Lemming’s test tests behavior), but at least it tests the hypothesis. A better, but more expensive design would be to follow-up with respondents and check behavior. Are there designs others would suggest?

  20. SGNM,

    Well, for one, I’ve never spoken to you. Secondly, tell me what you think of the two honor codes and what you think of their advantages and disadvantages compared to each other. What do they say about the students, the relationship between the students and the administration, and the trust placed in the students. While you’re at it, throw in the Cal Tech honor code for comparison.

  21. Sam, in essence, the point I was trying to make is that since you are advancing an economic explanation for the draconian dress standards at BYU-I, I was questioning—assuming your explanation is credible—whether such a policy achieves a sound economic result, i.e., whether discouraging well-qualified individuals from attending BYU-I so that the less fortunate can gain admission makes economic sense, whether it is a defensible allocation of resources that will meet the needs of both the institution and those it is trying to help. Jiggering the system in this fashion creates a market distortion, which begs the question: is it worth it? I have my doubts.

  22. Neurobiology student says:

    As current BYU-I student, I can assure you it has only the purpose of perpetuating the cultural assumption that everything Rexburg/ Eastern Idaho is inherently more righteous. President Clarke, at a devotional a few semesters ago, actually said it’s the school’s more stringent honor code that keeps the school at a higher level than “other places.” And just in case we don’t remember that, they make sure to tell us every single Sunday, because EVERYTHING in sacrament meeting in student wards has to relate back to the honor code. Idaho, from my wife’s and my observations, it seems to feel they think they are genuinely better (read: more righteous and first in line to the CK) than literally everywhere else. We were shocked when we attended a local ward after first marrying and realising it wasn’t just the school.

    The reality is, the school does use how well students follow the letter of the law to judge worthiness. I’m fortunate to be in a STEM major, where most of the professors don’t care too much about shaving, but everyone has to deal with the pharisaical state leadership, who seem to have adopted the BYU-I abridged version of HB1. The horror stories I could tell.

    As far as the value of the degree, the BYU name on it carries a lot of weight. Very few people differentiate between the BYU schools. And while that is changing, the school does a pretty good job of placing people in Masters and jobs. Actually, the schools academics don’t duffer to any kind of 3rd or 2nd-rate status at all. For now. They’re cutting costs by mostly hiring more and more temporary professors. But they school’s decision to drop intercollegiate sports in favor of more focus on academics and less “keep ’em eligible” academic and honor code practices has really helped keep things mostly up to par. The med-school acceptance rate is suffering, but that’s more likely due to bad advising by student advisors.

  23. Is the real question here how much of your dignity one would trade for cheap tuition?

  24. sgnm,

    Oh boy, can I add both you and everybody Neurobiology student just mentioned to my unscientific sample?

  25. Neurobiology student says:

    And yes, they really do seem to not trust students here. The culture of “overgrown children” just makes the students in general behave more like children, which makes the treatment worst, ect. My bishop in my singles ward almost had an aneurysm when I told a friend (who was the oldest in the ward, no less) to “…just be an adult and make your own choices irrespective of what others tell you is ‘right.'”

  26. fevertree: Regression discontinuity could be useful here. Find admission/application information for both BYU and BYU-I and see who just barely made the cutoff vs. not. Assuming those around the cutoff have the same propensity for selection into one school or the other, there could be a useful causal story. Doable if there’s data…

  27. My husband hates arbitrary rules. I don’t. But I in fact don’t consider most rules arbitrary. I would not have a problem with the BYU-I rules. One of my kids probably would, another one wouldn’t, the other two I’m not sure yet. One advantage of the BYU-I rules is that if my kid(s) choose BYU Provo they can feel like “at least the rules aren’t as strict as BYU-I.”
    The biggest reason I attended BYU was because I wanted to be with other committed Mormons for the first time in my life. The dress and grooming standards helps keep BYU schools as a place for people who are willing to follow the dress code in order to be with other LDS people in that environment.
    When I was at BYU there was a definite feeling of “if you don’t like it there are 3 people who want to take your place so just go” kind of attitude. My husband hated that attitude. I, however, felt like if someone didn’t actually want to be there then maybe they shouldn’t have come. Which is why I won’t make my kids go to BYU if they don’t want to. I hope they do though.

  28. It’s about institutional politics: What university president, hoping to impress “the board,” is going to be the one to lighten up on the dress code, or actually reverse its more arbitrary policies? Who of them would want to appear liberal and put their career in church leadership in jeopardy? There is tremendous institutional incentive to be the “strict obedience” leader. BYUI leadership have been congratulated from high ups for running a tight ship compared to “other” schools…and no, I won’t name sources…

  29. When Ricks College changed its name to BYU-I, I feared that the lower quality output with the BYU name on it would devalue my BYU degree. I would rather BYU-I admission standards be increased to produce higher quality graduates.

  30. jks,

    Could you unravel this:

    The dress and grooming standards helps keep BYU schools as a place for people who are willing to follow the dress code in order to be with other LDS people in that environment.

    for us? Seems a tad bit circular. What would BYU become without dress and grooming standards? UVU East?

  31. There was a post not too long ago about whether or not BYU should reduce its tuition subsidy. I can’t help but wonder if the powers that be pose the question like this: “What should the BYU tuition be in order to maximize future revenue for the church?”

    Certainly one would want the church schools to be attractive enough to reap the benefits of a large pool of applicants, but not too expensive to convince the future Alan Ashtons, James L. Sorensons, Huntsmans or Millers into attending other schools (And there’s not too much one can do about losing the occasional Bruce Bastion).

    I would argue again that demanding near pathological adherence to dress codes is simply a way of acclimating future tithe members to significantly bigger commitments (some financial, including the occasional $50,000 donation to defeat various propositions). That people find this surprising is really the only surprising thing about it.

  32. “Is the real question here how much of your dignity one would trade for cheap tuition?”

    I wouldn’t trade any of my own dignity, but I would trade my children’s. I mean it’s my money that they’ll be spending, after all. If they want it, and they have to wear pants to get it, then by golly they’re going to wear pants.

  33. The dress code discourages too many applicants… or the fact that BYU-I is in IDAHO.

  34. “I wouldn’t trade any of my own dignity, but I would trade my children’s.” Spoken like a true and honest parent. Hear, hear!

  35. That’s some interesting analysis, Brother Brunson.



  36. Paraphrasing someone: “Few people distinguish between BYU and BYU-I”.

    Sorry, but they do. Even completely secular businesses located in non-Mormon country (say, the Central time zone) know the difference between the two and distinguish accordingly. As someone said, you can get your generic business degree from BYU-Idaho and go look for generic business jobs, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that non-Mormon America is fooled. I had a client who has a very specific list of which universities from which they will consider applicants, and they won’t even look at a resume if you didn’t graduate from a university on the list. (Why? Because they can.)

    My daughter has been looking at universities intending to major in a non-business major, and found BYU-I doesn’t even offer the program she was looking for.

  37. We went to a CES university admissions seminar recently, and they did say that many applicants are choosing BYU-I as a first option on their CES applications, and that those requests are almost always granted. In other words, BYU-I is attracting some students who don’t apply to BYU at all or consider BYU Plan B.

  38. BYU-Idaho provide a justification for having a CES at all. With only BYU, the CES would only be serving the elite. My students at BYU-I tended to have very high high school grades, but their ACT scores were usually not as high as those that attended BYU. If the CES is going to offer 4 year degrees, why not offer the opportunity to as many as possible?

    BYU-I does a great job at making their programs career and job focused. I have qualms with certain aspects of their internship program, but it is a well developed and intensive program. BYU-I does not pretend to be BYU. Heck, BYU is much more prone to pretending that it is a Notre Dame or Georgetown when it clearly is not.

    As much as I mock BYU and BYU-I, they are likely the Church programs which I most support (Deseret Industries is cool,too). I say that as a Ute and as somebody who just decided last week that I would not apply at BYU-I for a position in my field. (Note: I still own a home in Rexburg and love the faculty there…expect the religion faculty)

    Elitist jerks like FarSide are as much a problem as the sexists and racists among us. It is not a community college or the University of Phoenix.

    *I only use “jerk” in honor of the BCC honor code. Dean Steve Evans looks down on my regularly vocabulary.

  39. Regularly.

  40. Regular! $%&* it! This is why I teach reading rather than writing.

  41. “Many applicants are choosing BYU-I as a first option on their CES applications…”

    I can confirm that. I’m involved in a small scholarship program for high school seniors in Eastern Idaho, and it’s amazing to me how many of the smartest, best-qualified high school seniors in the area go to BYU-I and don’t even consider BYU.

    And, of course, BYU has certain ACT score/GPA requirements, and a lot of students apply to BYU-I because they know they can’t make the cut at BYU.

    I’d be surprised, however, if very many students in any other demographic would pick BYU-I over BYU.

  42. Neurobiology student says:

    I applied to BYU-I specifically because I didn’t wanna be in a class with 200+ students. The largest class I’ve had was cellular biology, which had around 120ish students in lecture, but labs were broken into 28 students each. most of my classes have had less than 50 students.

  43. Helloooo, 32 act score here who chose ricks and didn’t apply to byu. We exist, more than you know. And pres Clark’s reputation and connections have opened door for internships, I heard byu wasn’t happy to find out a big 4 acct firm offered more of their open ft positions to more BYUI interns than BYU a few years ago. Esp since BYUI program is 4 yrs. watching pres hinckley a words at the dedication of the hinckley building were very loving and respectful as he mentioned we probably weren’t the cream of the crop, but you don’t have to be, most of the work of the world is done by average people. It was an amazing talk.

    Regardless – for years I’ve sat in many admin planning meetings talking about enrollment caps and goals etc in Rexburg. The code isn’t in place for economic reasons. They’ve found a way to max capacity and increase it to fit demand. They are committed to try to provide a lds education to any student who desires one, meeting basic standards. based on stats from SLC finally stopped building like crazy because info indicates in 5-10 years demographic #s will go down.

    They definitely try to use it as what type if student/mormon they’ll attract. I would count it more as it started as another commenter mentioned, a backlash against hippies….extended into some strange obey with exactness thing and the cultural baggage and understanding have gotten so convoluted by everyone at this point. And then again, it’s hard to change what the last two apostles in your spot praised to the high heavens. Idk.

  44. Geoff - Aus says:

    I went to Ricks in 1971 and 2. I now live in Australia and none of my children or grandchildren have gone to any BYU. Should I get a discount on my tithing?

    The honour code was such when I was there that I was required to have a haircut for registration one term, but all the rules that applied to girls just required them to change clothes.

    How many months of the year can you expose flesh in Rexburg without frostbite anyway. I do wonder why we think making things more difficult for our youth to remain in good faith with the church is a good idea? Especially when the line is drawn further than the TR requires.

  45. Hat-tip DQ
    “Another thought I’ve had is the fact that the school is church funded and if you’re going to receive tithing dollars to subsidize your education, the church is going to put up various benign “barriers to entry” (of a sort) that demonstrate only those who want to comply to the fullest will merit that funding subsidy.”

  46. Last Lemming, your claim that BYU-I is a poor education and unattractive to employers is ridiculous. My husband struggled to focus in high school and didn’t excel with grades. He went to BYU-I, pulled himself together with the care of faculty and leadership there, went to a state medical school on the east coast, got into a prestigious residency program, and is now a physician at a research hospital that is regularly ranked the best in the country. His student loans are a tiny fraction of those of his colleagues who went to fancier schools. BYU-I is attractive for many reasons to parents and students. There is plenty to mock and reform in the church schools system, but their gift of education and care for young adults is impressive.

  47. One more point (and I will admit that my defensiveness of BYU-I is taking me entirely by surprise): I’m pretty sure that high admission rate is a temporary reaction to the emptying of campus that occurred when the mission age was lowered.

  48. MargaretOH, for the record, Last Lemming made no criticism of BYU-I. He just proposed an empirical test of my hypothesis (which test, in a comment that gets to the pure awesomeness of comments sections, was subsequently disputed).

  49. Here are some statistics:

    Ricks: Avg ACT = 24; Avg HS GPA: 3.4; Acceptance Rate = 99%.
    BYU: Avg ACT = 28.5; Avg HS GPA: 3.82; Acceptance Rate = 55%
    MIT: Avg ACT = 34.0; Avg HS GPA: 3.9; Acceptance Rate = 10%

    My ACT: 34. My GPA: 4.0. My college? An Ivy. My starting salary post-grad school? 200K. My debt? Even greater. But in exchange for a lifetime of lording it over others, it’s worth it.

  50. My bad: The admissions rate at MIT is 7.7%. The rate at the other Ivies is around 6%.

  51. So, according to 31ka, President Hinckley told the BYU-I student body that they “probably weren’t the cream of the crop, but you don’t have to be, most of the work of the world is done by average people.” Now, there’s a prophetic endorsement to include in the school’s recruiting literature! (By comparison, the students in the small Midwestern town of Lake Woebegone are all above average.)

    And to further burnish my elitist credentials, I want Chris Henrichsen to know that I am truly grateful for people like him—he helps make the top 10% possible.

    Oops! Gota run. My chauffeur is waiting to take me to our monthly yacht club meeting.

  52. It’s all about what people aspire to. Kids at Ricks aspire to be on the High Council. Kids at Harvard aspire to be on the Council of Economic Advisors. Is one better than the other? Once again, it depends on the crowd you’re talking to.

  53. Sorry Last Lemming and Sam Brunson, I meant to refer to FarSide’s comments. Apparently I am bad at remembering names even on the internet.

  54. MargaretOH,

    Though I realize my efforts will likely be in vain, I believe you and others have not grasped the central point I was trying to make. Let’s start with Sam’s factual assumptions and his hypothesis.

    Assumptions: (1) BYU-I will accept most anyone who applies, and (2) tuition at the school is ridiculously low because the school is heavily subsidized by the church.

    Sam’s hypothesis: The school’s dress and grooming standards discourage those who qualify for admission at schools with better academic reputations from applying to BYU-I, leaving more room for the “underserved population” (his words, not mine), i.e., individuals whose performance in high school leave them with fewer options for pursuing an undergraduate degree. These are not, according to Sam, unintended consequences; rather, they are by design (at least, that’s his theory).

    I’m not challenging his hypothesis. Instead, I’m assuming he is right and then asking whether this is a wise policy. Should BYU-I make itself unattractive to those with more higher education options so that those with fewer choices can gain admission to a low-cost, four-year school? In other words, is it in the best interest of the church and/or society that everyone should go to college? Or if that is too extreme: should the church create artificial inducements for people to go to BYU-I who otherwise would not be admitted and who might be better off pursuing a vocational education or job training? I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think I’m the only person in the U.S. who is asking this question right now—not about BYU-I, of course, but about the value of a four-year degree.

    The experience of your husband is heart warming and inspiring (and I mean that), but it is anecdotal and, as such, should not be accorded much weight, in my opinion, when making institutional policy decisions.

    Finally, an apology: my “house plant” metaphor in my first post was hyperbolic and unnecessary. More to the point, it was a dumb thing to say.

  55. Last Lemming says:

    If nothing else, MargaretOH makes the valid point that I would have to include a dummy for the lowering of missionary ages in my analysis. Still no sign of any usable data for most of the other variables, though.

    Now let’s see how many take offense at my use of the word “dummy”.

  56. Far Side,
    I understood your argument the first time around and maybe I should have made my point clearer with my anecdote. I believe that my husband’s story illustrates that yes, there is value in subsidizing a system that provides a solid education for those who may have struggled in high school. High school seems far too young in some cases to decide that some people will not benefit from academics. Further, I think BYU-I fills this role particularly well because it is not a research institution and the profs can focus on teaching and developing students.

    Second, I agree that the conversation about the value of pushing college for everyone is an impt one right now. However, part of the reason it has become a national issue is bc so many of those students are taking on enormous debt. This is the remarkable value in BYU-I. It gives young adults another chance to get a good efucation without saddling them with debt they can’t pay off.

  57. So yes, possibly the false inducements to attend college might be bad for a part of the student body that really just isn’t equipped for college. Luckily, the cost to them is relatively low. On the other hand, the false inducements might get some people to college who really just needed another chance. And it’s remarkable that the second group isn’t getting something that isn’t of value in the market.

  58. Some of us want our kids to go to a BYU school so that they will make friends with LDS people, date LDS people, and increase the chances of marrying LDS people. I just moved from a high school with about 3 Mormon kids per grade (in separate wards) to a school with about 13 Mormon kids per grade (in separate stakes). I really, really want my kids to go to a BYU school. However, my oldest is on the fence about the truth of the gospel and right now I know she wouldn’t handle the “arbitrary” rules of BYU-Idaho or Provo. I expect her to get a scholarship to BYU Provo. We’ll see where her belief system is when it is time to decide. The willingness to live the “arbitrary” dress and grooming standards will reflect how much she actually wants to go hang with Mormons and be at a church school.
    My next kid seems to be a kid who wouldn’t have a problem with the rules and places a priority on marriage to a church member but we have years to go yet. He will probably have a good chance of getting in, but maybe not. It will be tough for him to try to decide on UW for a more prestigious engineering degree, or BYU-I for the environment. What’s the BYU-I accounting program like?

  59. Margaret, I understand your position though the fact that the BYU-I students are not saddled with the debt at the end of day is not persuasive to me. The only reason they are relieved of that burden is because of a church subsidy, and there may be better uses to which the church could put its money. The fact that the students don’t bear the cost is irrelevant as to whether the expense is justified. Somebody is paying for it.

    I have no idea how many students who attend BYU-I would be better off bypassing college altogether. I was simply prompted to ask that question by Sam’s dress code theory. And I do believe (as you do) that we need to rethink whether a college degree is right for everyone and whether the massive government/church subsidies, combined with a profligate federal student loan program, are good policy choices.

    Through past experience, I’ve learned that asking these questions frequently provokes a hostile response. Any time you call into question the continuing relevance of an academic ivory tower, you quickly learn that hell does know a species of furry far worse than a woman scorned. For those in doubt, read the Atlantic Monthly story I referenced in my first comment:

  60. FarSide, I shouldn’t have left out the rest of President Hinckley’s quote: that the average kids would go on to be above-average and extra-ordinary.

    “I wish for you nothing but the best. You are so choice and so wonderful and the future is so great that you can’t afford to betray yourselves in anyway or to do anything less than that which each of you is capable of accomplishing. You don’t have to be a genius. You don’t have to be a straight-A student. You just have to do your very best with all the capability you have. You have to do your very best. And somehow, if you do that, God will open the way before you and the sun will shine, and your lives will be fruitful and you will accomplish great good in the world in which you take a part. I couldn’t wish for you anything better as I look into your faces this day.

    There is no end in sight for the good you can do. Do you know it? You are just simple kids. You are not geniuses. I know that. But the work of the world isn’t done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people who have learned to work in an extraordinary way people of your kind who can do these things. “

  61. Thanks for the rest of the Hinckley quote, Kristine A. I miss him.

  62. “The fact that the students don’t bear the cost is irrelevant as to whether the expense is justified. Somebody is paying for it.”

    What an asinine comment.

  63. Come to BYUH. We won’t mind your hairy legs. Your flip flop has nothing to do with your righteousness here, unless you are a Haole administrator. Shaka.

  64. Does anyone find it ironic that a church that worships a founder who bed and married 14 year old children and other men’s wives (multiple) cares so much if someones ankles are showing? Wow talk about total hypocrisy. Why would anyone in their right mind attend BYU

  65. Farside,

    Why do you think the market for lawyers, and the emphasis on which school they attend, is similar to most other fields? Other than the Atlantic article you cite that discussed law schools, what makes you think the undergrad school matters that much? My sense is it only matters for more “elite” careers, but the vast majority of jobs don’t fit that description.

    Second question: Do you think a bachelors degree from BYU-Idaho is any less valuable than a degree from Weber St or Southern Utah or Cal State Northridge or hundreds of non top tier schools?

  66. Mike – stats say otherwise. Going to a good school like Stanford provides much more opportunity. Even going to a decent school like Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois provides much better opportunity than BYU or especially BYU-I. Not sure why anyone would intentionally go to BYU-I. The perception among employers (me being one of them) is that people only go there cause they are not intelligent enough to get into a good school.

  67. @Nobody:

    [While it is true that BYU students will likely never demand the same salaries as those graduating from Ivy league schools…]

    Only about 1000 undergrad students get into MIT every year. The larger number of students BYU accepts (maybe 8000 per year) can obscure the quality and quantity of very high-achieving undergrads at BYU (at least to those who haven’t been around BYU much). In the latest entering class 1 in 10 were first in their class and 1 in 4 had a 4.0 in high school. So, for an entering freshman class, that equates to about 800 valedictorians and 2000 students with 4.0 high school GPAs at BYU compared to the 1000 students at MIT with an avg GPA of 3.9.

    I don’t have any stats on test scores, but I’d bet the average test scores of the top 1000 students of each BYU class are as good or better than those of the students entering MIT.

  68. Oh my, Chris. That sounds an awful lot like snobbish classism.

    You seem to be claiming that those not blessed with the ability to attend Stanford (Michigan, etc.) deserve neither respect nor employment. What must you think of the truly poor and needy if the college-attending students and graduates of BYU-I deserve such scorn?

  69. 2Nobody – There are some people every year that turn down Ivy league schools to attend BYU, usually as Presidential scholars or something similar. So it’s empirically true that you will find **some** students at BYU as academically accomplished as those at so-called “top universities.” Most of the people I know who chose top universities over BYU were turning down the equivalent of a Presidential Scholarship. Also, a very high percentage of students accepted to top schools actually go to those schools, so you won’t find hundreds of BYU people who all “got into Harvard” but didn’t go (usually there’s a couple per year, but I doubt too many more).

    Since neither of us actually has the statistics, I’m not sure how valuable this discussion is – particularly with respect to GPAs, since you need to compare apples with applies (weighted GPAs vs. weighted GPAs). People who get into MIT and other Ivy-caliber schools are very hardworking in high school and tend to take lots of AP classes, so I think you’d see a big difference in weighted GPAs.

    For test scores, the 25th percentile at MIT has an ACT of 33, whereas the 75th percentile at BYU has an ACT of 31. Perhaps the 25th percentile at MIT = the 90th percentile at BYU, in terms of standardized test scores? That’s what these statistics suggest.

    This is a silly discussion, anyway. Academic accomplishment in high school has little correlation to how “successful” you are going to be in life. In real life, people define success differently. In real life, being super smart and geeky is actually a liability. Although I went to an Ivy, I’m going to do everything I can to send my own kids to BYU, because it’s a great value, and they’ll do just fine in life by going there.

  70. “And to further burnish my elitist credentials, I want Chris Henrichsen to know that I am truly grateful for people like him—he helps make the top 10% possible.”

    FarSide, I wasn’t implying that your were rich. I was implying that you are an [edited]. Get a spine and use your real name.

  71. Chris, my comment wasn’t arguing that going to BYU Idaho is more valuable than going to Stanford, but that it is more valuable than not going to college at all. FarSide seemed to be arguing that because going to a bottom tier law school can be worse than not going to law school at all, it is also true that going to BYU Idaho is worse than not going to college at all. I found that argument foolish.

    What do stats say about the lifetime earnings of a college graduate–regardless of the school–compared to someone without a degree?

  72. Mike RM – The simple answer to your question about earnings, which I bet you already knew, is that the average earnings of a college graduate exceed the average earnings of a high school graduate. A more nuanced view would take into account the person’s major, which college they went to, and what field they decided to go into. For example, does a home economics major from a bottom tier school make more than a typical high school graduate? Not necessarily. Here’s a publication which offers some insight into this:

    Click to access acsbr11-04.pdf

    Keep in mind that the statistics for high school vs. college are based on the post-WWII period of prosperity. Nowdays, you read articles all the time about unemployed college graduates living in their parents basements. Will these people make much more than high school graduates? Who knows. What if they saddled themselves with $150,000 in the process, and still don’t have a job?

    The relevant question for this discussion should be: “Does the average BYU-I graduate make more than the average high school graduate?” Probably yes. But there will probably also be some graduates who will make less than high school graduates as well. It depends on the person, what they studied, and what they chose to do with their life. If lifetime-earnings is the end goal, then Jesus was an absolute failure.

  73. The Other Clark says:

    I can’t believe no one has yet mentioned the real reason: IT’S ALL ABOUT CALIFORNIA. Locals in SE Idaho already feel their part of zion is being overrun by Californians. Banning flip-flops, capris and shorts will keep this riff-raff away from Rexburg, away from the companies that recruit there, and away from the local populace.

    If you flip-flop wearing hippies and capri-showing Californians want a Church education, go to BYU-P or BYU-H, where you’ll be appreciated. For those that come anyway, the Power that Be will use their mad weather control skilz to compel you to cover up!

  74. The Other Clark –

    Word. We call it the Cali-FORNIcation of the West.

  75. 2Nobody,

    I’d offer you a counter-bet:

    I would bet that MIT could pick their top 1,000 rejects and beat the top 1,000 scores of admits at BYU.

    That’s right, a group of people that MIT didn’t even admit would have better high-school stats that the top 12.5% of BYU students.

    I agree with Nobody, who suggests that this discussion is a bit silly, but it does go to show why a degree from MIT is valued more than a degree from BYU. We should probably compare the Honor Codes of the two institutions while we’re at it to see what the administrations thinks of the quality of their respective students.

  76. Neurobiology student says:

    While the school doesn’t publish official stats, I’ve asked a few science teachers about how the students compared to other universities in a couple of areas:
    ACS: Last year, the school’s average ACS score was a 73, 2 points higher than the national average.

    MCAT: Last year, average reported MCAT score was a 29, which is above national average.

    According to an anonymous biology professor, around 40% of med school applicants were accepted to Either MD or DO programs. However, he says it used to be in the upper 50s until the school started using student advisors for most advising. He has found that they tend to give bad advice for premed students. When limited to students who took easy majors with the intention of getting good grades (Exercise Phys, Med Admin, ect) and took easier courses when two options were available (200-level vs 400-level anatomy/physiology) it was only 24%. When They took higher courses, it was closer to 35%. Science majors, who would have been required to take higher-level courses anyways, had 82% acceptance.

    And FYI, BYU in provo, has a 70% med school acceptance rate overall. Thats almost 30 points above national average. When it comes to IVy-league undergrads, they actually aren’t most likely to be accepted because many of those schools have a reputation for artificially inflating GPAs for med school applicants. (this was from a admissions committee member on student

  77. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Wow…you BYU and BYU- I grads are pretty defensive. “My school is better and less strict/more strict than your school!!!!!”

    Sheesh…..watching from the sidelines, this is pretty funny.

    And this whole thing started with the dress code discussion.

  78. BYU Provo does not have a 70% med school acceptance rate. BYU’s medical school acceptance rate ranges from 45% to 60%. If you narrow the pool you are looking at to those that applied to both MD and DO schools (and exclude those that applied to one or the other) you can bump that number to 84%, but the overall acceptance rate to one or another is 64%.


    Click to access Medical%20Stats%20Handout%202012%20in%20color.pdf

    I’d be interested in know what schools have the most success at getting their pre-meds into medical school. I spent a few minutes googling and couldn’t come up with anything. As for the claim that elite institutions has massive grade inflation, that might be true, but they also have weed-out courses early on, which would counter the effect of grade inflation.

  79. Money quote from the nber link:

    Perhaps the single most interesting college in Table 6 is Brigham Young, which appears
    in the top 10, between Princeton and Brown, in region 8 (which contains Utah). We have
    checked and determined that, if we were to compute a Utah-specific ranking, Brigham Young
    would rank even higher. The dramatic appearance of Brigham Young in the top 10 almost
    certainly occurs because the college is particularly desirable in the eyes of Mormon students.

    We cannot verify this conjecture because we did not ask students about their religion, but this
    leads us back to our general point about latent desirability and self-selection into applicant
    pools. The reason that Brigham Young wins so many tournaments with Utah students is that it
    is truly more desirable to them.

    Table 6, Region 8 reads:
    Harvard, Cal Tech, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, BYU, Brown, Columbia…

    BYU doesn’t appear on any of the other regional rankings and is excluded from the overall national rankings because of this.

  80. well that pasted ugly…

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