Welcome to this 19th installment of my regular series of feature stories about leading colleges and universities in the U.S. As my regular readers know, every couple of weeks we do a deep dive into the extensive, wildly diverse, highly innovative American higher education system …
… talking about public and private options, visiting schools from New England to Hawaii and everywhere in between, highlighting world-leading programs from law to music to nuclear physics to tropical agriculture to equine medicine, and sampling our vibrant extracurriculars, deep traditions, and passionate alumni networks.
This week we travel to Utah to tour Brigham Young University (BYU), a private institution owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Located against the scenic Wasatch Mountains in the city of Provo, BYU is the largest religious university in the United States. It recruits actively in the Pacific region and has a very affordable cost structure as well as a distinctive campus culture that might be of particular interest to certain kinds of students. Because he has engaged with BYU several times in his work, I asked my Educational Adviser Drew Dumas to write this week’s feature.
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by Drew Dumas
America has a rich tradition of religious schools, and the Ambassador previously featured one of the most famous, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Turning to Brigham Young University, the school places well in a number of rankings, including placing #68 on U.S. News & World Report’s national ranking of universities, #10 for the number of students who earn PhD’s, #6 for students who successfully go on to law school, and #10 for those who transition into medical school. In addition, the Princeton Review has rated BYU students as some of the happiest in America, with a campus that affords one of the highest qualities of life.
The BYU campus sits at the edge of Provo against the Wasatch Mountains.
The school also distinguishes itself because of its exceedingly low tuition rates. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked BYU as the best school for return on investment for undergraduate students in 2010. The LDS church funds a the vast bulk of the operating costs of the University and charges Mormon students less than US$ 2,500 per semester to attend. Non-LDS students pay slightly more, just under US$ 5,000 per semester, which makes BYU one of the most affordable private higher education providers in America.
The history of BYU traces back to an academy founded by LDS member Warren Dusenberry in 1862. The academy was personally purchased by LDS President Brigham Young in 1875, which is treated as the school’s official founding date. BYU did not call itself a university until 1903 when it split to create a separate high school, receiving accreditation as a university a couple decades later. Although an LDS institution, it accepts applications from prospective students who are not Mormons.
The Maeser Building houses classrooms and the University’s Honors Program.
The center of campus in early Spring.
Today 98% of the student body belongs to the LDS church, and all students, whatever their faith, are required to adhere to an honor code that mirrors many of the behavioral tenants of the church, including prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, profanity, facial hair, and sex outside of marriage. In 2007 the honor code was reworded to clarify that sexual orientation is not an honor code issue, meaning that chaste LGBT students won’t be disciplined or expelled. BYU is proud that for more than a decade it has been ranked the “#1 stone cold sober school” in the U.S. by the Princeton Review.
The large main campus is 560 acres (2.3 sq. km.) with nearly 300 buildings displaying architectural styles from every era since the founding of the school. Among the most notable structures are the Spencer W. Kimball Tower (the tallest building in Provo) and the Harold B. Lee Library, which is regularly ranked in the top 10 campus libraries in America. BYU has extensive study abroad programs, with a large number of satellite centers around the world. Great emphasis is placed on foreign languages, with more than 75% of the students proficient or fluent in two or more languages.
The very well-attended BYU Museum of Art.
Entrance to the Harold B. Lee Library.
The main campus grounds host one of the largest student populations of any private university in America, totaling more than 34,000. Students may choose their degree from among 10 different colleges containing a total of more than 180 undergraduate degrees, 60 master’s degrees, and 25 doctoral degrees. Subjects are taught by a faculty of 4,000, 90% of whom are either tenured or on tenure track.
One of the more well-recognized programs at BYU is the Marriott School of Management. The school boasts a vast array of awards and rankings, including a #1 ranking in undergrad accounting by Businessweek (and #3 by U.S. News), #2 for both return on investment and ethics emphasis, and #12 for all undergrad programs combined. Many of the undergraduate and graduate courses rank in the top 20. The Marriott School emphasizes hands-on experience, and the majority of students take internships or work-study experiences before they graduate.
Centennial Carillon was built to mark the school’s 100th anniversary in 1975.
The College of Fine Arts and Communications is another strength. Advertising students have the opportunity to do real work with several major brands and labels, and their hands-on experience helped the BYU Ad Lab team to victory in the L’Oreal National Brandstorm Competitions in 2007 and 2008. Graduates of the College’s theatre and drama courses have starred in various Broadway shows, and the film students have done well in competitions like Sundance or Slamdance. One of my favorite movies, Napoleon Dynamite, is the work of a BYU student.
Life Sciences is the largest College on campus. BYU sends an unusually large number of its graduates on to medical school, and undergrads thus take great advantage of the Neuroscience, Cancer Research, and DNA Sequencing Centers within the Life Sciences College, as well as the excellent Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum. Current cutting-edge biological research coming out of the College examines the effect of high-fat, high-sugar foods on the body at the cellular level.
Eyring Science Center houses a planetarium, Foucault pendulum, and vast underground physics laboratories.
There isn’t space to write about all the other well-regarded fields of study at BYU. As a general matter, though, I should note that in 2010 the Wall Street Journal ranked BYU #11 on the list of universities whose graduates were most highly prized by employment recruiters. The Association of University Technology Managers has ranked BYU #3 in the nation in terms of creating the most startup companies on campus. The U.S. Department of Education selected BYU as the location for the national Middle East Language Resource Center.
Because of BYU’s unique culture and top-notch academics, the school has produced interesting alumni such as Filo Farnsworth (inventor of the electric TV), Harvey Fletcher (inventor of stereophonic sound), Tracy Hall (inventor of the man-made diamond), John Heder, Aaron Eckhart, Ken Jennings, Stephanie Meyer, Mitt Romney, many members of Congress, and a multitude of professional sports players (with BYU grads having played in 7 Baseball World Series, 5 NBA Finals, and 25 NFL Super Bowls).
Cosmo traditionally leads the team as they storm the field.
Fans pack LaVell Edwards Stadium for a Thursday night practice.
BYU students and sports teams are collectively nicknamed the Cougars. The school colors are BYU Blue, BYU Tan, and white. After the school lifted a two-decade ban on football in the 1920s, students adopted as school mascot the powerful, graceful cougars found in the surrounding hills. In the 1950s the official mascot became Cosmo the Cougar, so named for the cosmic rays of the universe. Because many students leave school for two years of LDS missionary work, Cougar athletes tend to be older than their opponents.
There are 21 varsity athletic teams, most of which belong to the West Coast Conference, with the best known and most successful being basketball (both men’s and women’s), football, rugby, track and field, men’s volleyball, and women’s soccer. The rugby team is always among the top in the country and won the national championship last year. The men’s basketball team was recently ranked the 36th greatest of all time by Street and Smith. BYU is known in football circles as the Quarterback Factory because of the number of elite quarterbacks it has produced.
BYU dominates in ballroom dance.
A clean-cut alternative to messy muddier options, True Blue Football is a homecoming tradition played on a field of blue foam.
BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company is one of the best formation ballroom dance teams in the world, winning the U.S. National Championship every year since 1982. The first American team to win the British Championships in Blackpool, BYU boasts the largest collegiate ballroom dance program in the world with a large number of open courses and programs for interested students.
Cougars on campus are very active in service and volunteer work throughout the year. A annual focal point is Y Days, a week of service projects when students work on projects in the Provo community in multiple fields such as secondary school volunteering, free healthcare, and assisting disabled citizens. It is during Y Days that students travel to Y Mountain near campus to white-wash the giant “Y” made of rocks on the mountainside. It truly is giant, measuring 380 feet high by 130 feet wide (116 meters by 40 meters).
The Provo cityscape, seen from Squaw’s Peak Lookout in the mountains.
Provo sits at the base of the Wasatch Mountains amidst great natural beauty and extensive outdoor recreational opportunities. Forbes Magazine named Provo one of the top 10 locations in America to raise a family, and National Geographic Adventure called it a “cultural hub.” The city is home to 5 companies on Inc.com’s list of the fastest growing private companies in America. In terms of demographics, 98% of Provo’s population belongs to the LDS church, and the metro area is rated by groups such as the Center for Voting Research as among the most conservative in the U.S.
Whether you are a student or a tourist, the Covey Center for the Arts is well worth visiting for its busy calendar of ballets, theatre productions, and art showcases. In July, the city is overrun by visitors during America’s Freedom Festival, a grand Fourth of July celebration that brings entertainers from all over the world to perform in BYU’s stadium. Festival Latinoamericano is another must-see annual event that highlights and celebrates the Hispanic community in Utah. Among other notable events is the Sego Festival that celebrates artists and filmmakers.
The Stadium of Fire, a huge concert held on football field during the Freedom Festival.
Close at-hand elsewhere in Utah is a great array of ski resorts, glorious national parks with surrealistic landscapes (such as Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Monument Valley), the famous Salt Flats for motor and speed enthusiasts, the Sundance Film Festival for movie buffs, water sports at Lake Powell, and much more. For a better sense of all that Utah has to offer, check out the guest post that my former Samoa Chargé d’Affaires Chad Berbert wrote a few months ago.
And just a bit farther, beyond Utah’s borders, is a great deal more to see and experience, whether you like wilderness adventure or big-city choices. For example, just a five-hour road trip (or a short flight) from Provo are the lights and glamour of Las Vegas. The mile-high city of Denver and the iconic Grand Canyon are each only about a seven-hour drive through some of the most beautiful terrain on Earth. The metropolis of Los Angeles is a 90-minute flight away, as is San Francisco.
Salt Lake City and its international airport are only 45 miles from Provo.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Park City Ski Resort.
For more details about Brigham Young University, including campus life, fields of study, programs for international students, and research opportunities, visit the school’s main website. If you have questions not answered on the website, I’d be happy to help; just send me an email. And don’t forget to follow our education Twitter feed @EducationUSANZ for ongoing information about general topics and a variety of other schools.
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Stay tuned for our 20th education profile in a couple of weeks. I haven’t yet decided which school to feature, so don’t hesitate to send me a note in the next couple of days if you have a suggestion.