Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Prospect of an Ivy League BYU

March 06th, 2015 by MC

I did a search for “BYU” on Twitter on Saturday night to look for articles about the Cougars’ thrilling basketball victory over Gonzaga.* Instead I got a steady stream of 17- and 18-year-old Mormon kids either celebrating getting into BYU or lamenting their rejection letters. It’s that time of year.

That got me wondering just how hard it is to get into BYU these days, in terms of ACT scores. People above the age of 40 who graduated from BYU like to say “I’d never get in there today,” but I wanted to see just how big a difference there was. The BYU admissions website only has average ACT scores (36-point scale) for the last three entering classes:

2012: 28.35

2013: 28.52

2014: 28.81

Almost a 29 ACT average! A kid who gets a 29 is going to be one of the 15-20 smartest kids in his class at most any high school he attends. My high school friend with a 28 didn’t seriously consider any school but BYU, and all of us figured he’d get in easily. Nowadays he’d be in the bottom half of the class. And that’s up half a point from only two years earlier.

I wanted to find actual numbers to see if this was a constant rate of increase. I found a link from the mid-aughts which gives a few scores that appear to have been taken from a now-defunct page at BYU:

2004: 27.4

2005: 27.5

2006: 27.8

So that’s an increase of about 1.5 points in a decade. Can we go further back? Yes:

“In 1989, entering freshmen had an average American College Test (ACT) composite score of 24.7.”

An increase of 2.7 points in 15 years, or 1.8 points per decade.

Just by ACT scores of entering freshman, BYU has progressed in 25 years from the comparative level of a respectable secondary state university to that of a nationally recognized flagship State U., like UCLA, Ohio State, or the University of Texas (maybe ever so slightly better, even).

Let’s say that the rate of increase slows to 1.25 points per decade. By 2039, another quarter century from now, BYU would have an average ACT score of 32. Basically an Ivy League school, on the level of Dartmouth, Cornell, Rice, etc. The astonishing thing is that BYU undergraduate student body, with 28,000, or about 7,000 students per class, is a little over half the size of the entire Ivy League undergraduate student body combined.

Because of the large size of the student body, there may be an upper limit to this kind of progress. Someone with better statistical chops might be able to say how many Ivy League-smart Mormon kids there are out there. And I suspect that, with the advent of US News rankings, the sorting of kids with high test scores into the highest ranking schools has pushed the scores of all competitive schools upward.

Still, I doubt there’s a single university out there which has statistically climbed as fast as BYU, and that’s reflected in a steady ride up the college rankings. Given what we know about the correlation of education and income level with church activity and fecundity among the LDS (hat tip to Dr. Charlton), this shouldn’t be too surprising. I personally expect that I will end up having about 3 times as many kids as the average man with my ACT score.** Give that a couple of generations, and you’ve got a real change in the demographics of the highest scorers nationally.

This strikes me as almost entirely good news. It reflects tremendous growth in the Church, particularly in its American base, which provides the majority of the human and financial resources that support the Kingdom worldwide. The smarter the kids are at BYU, the harder it will be for the elites to dismiss the Church as just some yokel institution. The Cathedral can laugh off a Bob Jones University or Oral Roberts U. The Left would probably invent those schools if they didn’t exist, just to have someone to scorn. But an unapologetically Mormon BYU that is clearly one of the elite colleges in America will drive the anti-Christians nuts. “How can such smart people be such evil Christofascist sky god worshippers?!” (Here’s a classic in the genre). It’s the West Point for weapons-grade Mormonism.

I can see some stumbling blocks, though. The more elite BYU becomes, the more pressure will be brought to bear to make it more like a left-wing elite school. Some of the Sunday School-style scripture classes will be called an embarrassment to academic rigor. More scrutiny will be paid to “academic freedom,” a phrase in which, as with “political correctness” and “government accounting,” the modifier negates the noun.

I know there is now and always will be a Sunstone-type contingent at BYU. Mormon Unitarian-Universalists, basically, who choose, out of thousands of options, to come to one of the truly unique colleges in the country and gripe that it isn’t like every place else. Unless there is some stark reversal in the trend of higher and higher tuition at elite U.S. colleges, these kids will be ever-more enticed to come to BYU and get prestige at the tithe-paying member rate, complaining all the way.

What will be most interesting to me is how much cultural pull BYU will have versus BYU-Idaho. I think it is almost indisputable that, at some point in the near future, BYU-I will surpass Provo in enrollment. BYU-I has tripled in size in ten years, it’s essentially open enrollment, and it’s surrounded by farmland, while BYU has no room to grow. I seem to recall someone saying that the Rexburg Temple, which is currently just across from the BYU-I campus, is expected someday to be at the center of campus. A generation from now, BYU-I could easily be double the enrollment of BYU.

There are several examples of flagship state universities that are far more liberal than the rival State U. down the road, which often has a history of being an ag school or an engineering school, and is thus a little less Ivory Tower-ish and closer to the values of the working and middle classes. Some examples of this phenomenon, just off the top of my head, are Texas-Texas A&M, Indiana-Purdue, Alabama-Auburn, and Utah-Utah State. I would not be the least bit surprised if this is already somewhat true of BYU and BYU-I. Even though BYU is itself one of the most conservative schools in the country, I’d bet a pretty penny that Obama got a higher percentage of votes from BYU students and faculty than from BYU-I.

I hope that this sort of thing does not become a divide among the members. Right now, the only difference I see is between BYU grads who equate BYU with the Church, and non-BYU grads who don’t much care about BYU at all.*** But if BYU acquired the reputation of being the “liberal” Mormon school (and I hear that from people sometimes), going to BYU-I could end up signifying something more than just, “I am from Idaho and wanted to stay close to home” or “I didn’t get into BYU.”

*You can tell whether a national college basketball commentator has actually seen BYU play this year by whether they think Tyler Haws is the best player on the team based on his scoring stats, or if they know that it’s really Kyle Collinsworth.

**Then again, I did not go to BYU for undergrad, and I have no idea if my kids will either.

***I know there’s a third category, but I don’t live in Utah, so I don’t really see it.

Comments (31)
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March 06th, 2015 04:20:58
31 comments

Bruce Charlton
March 6, 2015

Interesting speculations. Before I became a Christian then ‘Outsider Mormon’, this kind of thing was what initially got me interested in Mormonism.

There are various blog posts comments here and there where I did back of envelope demographic calculations regarding the Mormon contribution to the US intellectual elite.

If Mormons are currently 2 percent of the USA then they are significantly more than 2 percent of the elite, having higher intelligence, greater conscientiousness, higher rates of advanced education – this would be particularly so among the male elite, which is most significant.

But the secular elite have a very low average fertility rate, say about 1 child per woman (probably less), which means they halve their numbers every generation – while among educated Mormons it is perhaps four times as much; so each generation (c 25 years) the Mormon contribution to the elite would roughly quadruple – ten percent of the elite being Mormon in 25 years? If so, that could lead to pretty rapid change.

However, I nowadays think that representation in the intellectual elite (lawyers doctors, executives, academics) makes less difference than does mass media power. Groups such as Germans (in the past) and Chinese (now) have had disproportionate intellectual dominance without this apparently changing the balance of group power in the US – it may prove the same with Mormons. By contrast (secular) Jews have dominated the mass media (as well as intellectual fields), and have punched far above their weight in terms of national Zeitgeist influence.

For example, Mormons prestige business success (including Harvard Business School) and (I hear) the CIA seem not to have protected the church against the recent ramping-up of attacks wrt the politica correctness especially sexual revolution agenda.

For many decades devout Mormons could also expect to do as well in terms of power, status and salary as their intelligence and hard work would allow – Mormons were left alone and ignored by elites rather than attacked or excluded – but in future there will probably have to be hard choices made.


G.
March 6, 2015

I don’t see this as an unalloyed good. Of course who am I to teach the prophets to suck eggs, but if it were up to me, I’d rather that ‘prestige’ remained out of grasp and that fine-grained assortative mating was being suppressed.


Zen
March 6, 2015

Two additional points worth considering:
First, does the church want something so elitist? I have noticed that there is an effort to get representation from students who might not otherwise get to an elite school, so we are not monolithic or classist. But then, I am probably one of those 40 year olds you mentioned.

Second, we are sitting on a bubble in higher education. Expenses are going up, while a college degree is less distinctive than it used to be. And all the while, online education is improving. Online is cheaper, significantly cheaper. It is going to grow and consume a significant portion, maybe 2/3rds of, brick and mortar schools.


John Mansfield
March 6, 2015

I’ve wondered and worried a little of the consequences of the rise of BYU-Idaho as the mainstream school and BYU as the elite Mormon school, but not from this angle before, but more the other side of things. Unlike those institutions clamoring for US News respect by boasting of their exclusivity and gaming their rejection rates to rise in the rankings, BYU has in the past made a point of how accepting it is. If it becomes an elite place that most reasonably competent youth don’t have much chance of attending, then the emotional, social connection of LDS with BYU will diminish. It’s because of that connection that BYU receives so many excellent students who could get a full-ride scholarship at flagship state universities, and without it, BYU would just be some school in Utah, a peer of the others in that state.

This other concern, of BYU pulling away from the mainstream of the LDS church, is also worth wondering about. One factor that may save BYU from it is that in many senses, the LDS church is led by elites who keep the church in its mainstream. They (the apostles, stake presidents, and such) are the kind of elite that Charles Murray wishes America had: people who are more capable than most, live upright lives, and exhort a church full of average and less-than-average people to do likewise. This is unlike the Episcopalians or RLDS, led by a liberal leadership pulling their churches in directions that the Harvard faculty would approve and alienating many of their members.


Vader
March 6, 2015

The most worrisome thing to me about BYU is what I’m hearing about the direction the Maxwell Institute has taken.

Also, the Cathedral can effectively close down BYU any time they decide it has become a sufficient threat, simply by refusing accreditation unless it jettisons all the things that make it unique, valuable, and threatening to the Cathedral.

I wonder if these two things are linked.


MC
March 6, 2015

BGC,

In a way, Mormons are in a similar position to that of Jews before the last couple of centuries; mostly limited to the professions (medicine, law, business) that require brainpower and are remunerative, but don’t necessarily “run” society. But if we keep growing, we could form a sort of “shadow elite” that is ready to assume control when the time comes. Not necessarily a likely outcome, but plausible.

G,

Very good point about assortative mating, I wish I’d brought it up. I agree it’s a problem, but I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it. You could make admission to BYU less reflective of test scores, but that would just drive the kid with a 32 ACT and a rejection letter from BYU to go to another elite school somewhere. He’s still going to marry someone of similar intelligence, and somewhat less likely to marry a fellow Mormon. Even if you did away with the Church schools and plunged all those resources into the Institutes of Religion, Yalie Mormons will still marry Yalie Mormons, and community college kids will probably still marry community college kids. In fact, BYU might actually be a net benefit to the cause of bringing Mormon kids of disparate test scores together.

Zen,

I was just talking with a middle-aged guy who is doing the online program through BYU-Idaho. He says that after the first semester, the online students are repeatedly urged to transfer to BYU-I, on campus. I suspect that this has to do with improving the likelihood of graduation, but it’s interesting to see that, even with one of the fastest-growing online programs in the country, BYU-I still sees it as an inferior good to a standard college education. I’m not sure what to make of that.

JM,

Good point about elites. My feeling is that most non-elites like to see elites succeed so long as there is a genuine kinship between the two. I don’t think too many Cold War-era Americans felt jealousy of superior specimens such as Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong, or Van Cliburn. It was more a sense of pride that these were our guys. It has to be reciprocal, though; Neil had to plant that American flag on the moon. I’m not sure this works as well if the classes are so static as to extinguish the any realistic chance for non-elites to become elite.

I think one of the keys to BYU’s (and BYU-I’s) success is simply that it is administered for the benefit of students, not for the greater glory of the University president. Thus, no $50k/year tuition, very few unnecessary programs or buildings meant only for show. Another example how elites within the Church actually help non-elites succeed.

Vader,

Yes, the Maxwell Institute is an example of the costs of “respectability.”


G.
March 6, 2015

MC,
the obvious, though pricy, solution, would be to expand admissions to BYU. More kids equals less selectivity equals less assortative mating.


Edje Jeter
March 6, 2015

I think the proximity of UVU and BYU might stir the mate-selection pot as much as it is going to be stirred, at least regarding intellectual talents.

It’s a small sample, but every off-campus Provo singles ward I’ve observed had large numbers of non-BYU students, in some cases constituting a majority of ward members. If that observation is reliable and applies to most off-campus wards, most BYU students attend churches and live in neighborhoods full of non-married, non-BYU people.

Furthermore, an awful lot of non-BYU people seem to be living closer to BYU’s campus than to UVU’s, so there might even be some pre-sorting. (I don’t know how much non-BYU-approved housing for non-married tenants there is in Provo/Orem so don’t know if people are choosing to live close to BYU or if that is just where the only housing is.)

In short, in Provo there seems to be ample opportunity for 32s and 27s to come to an understanding. I’d be surprised if putting the 27s in class on BYU campus would change mate-selection decisions much.


Zen
March 7, 2015

MC,

right now, I am a full time faculty teaching math online. Online education is still growing up, but we are learning, and it is getting better. The cost/benefit ratio is such, that we ARE going to find ways to make it work.


MC
March 8, 2015

EJ,

Elder Holland spoke along similar lines in an interview the other day:

“HH: You see, I’ve had the chance to work with Rex Lee and interview Elder Oaks, so that’s, I kind of now have the trio of BYU. How’s the university faring, in you view?

JH: It’s doing very well. It continues to do well. We’ve, the most painful element of present life at BYU, I think, is the capping of enrollment. We just, we can’t grow. And with the growth of the church, there are more and more young people who would like to be at BYU but aren’t. That gives rise, I’ll finish the sentence you started with my other son. He’s the president of Utah Valley University in Utah County, and so many of the students who would like to have been at BYU are over in that, on that campus with him, and it’s now a campus of 34,000 in Utah.”

http://www.hughhewitt.com/a-conversation-with-lds-elder-jeffrey-holland/


G.
March 8, 2015

EJ, that’s an excellent point, and of course it’s in the interests of the church to have a quasi-annex to BYU that we don’t have to fund directly.


MC
June 26, 2015

Just a little update. The average ACT score for entering BYU freshmen for 2015 ticked up another .14, to 28.95:

https://admissions.byu.edu/entrance-average


Vader
June 26, 2015

Given the SCOTUS decision today, I think it’s all but certain that BYU as a Church institution will cease to exist within a couple of years.


G.
June 27, 2015

On what grounds do you say that, Lord Vader? I would expect it to be at least a decade before Progress succeeds at shutting down major quasi-religious institutions.


Leo
June 27, 2015

BYU is essentially independent of government funding. It is sufficiently well regarded that accreditation isn’t necessary for its graduates to be able to find good jobs. BYU might get kicked out of sports leagues, but otherwise it has the ability to be separate from the world and still succeed in its mission.

This is what Rod Dreher calls The Benedict Option.


Ivan W.
June 27, 2015

Since BYU accepts Pell Grants, Stafford loans, and many professors have federal grants, BYU is not “essentially independent of government funding.”

BYU may have to go the full Hillsdale route (no government money at all, period, in any form) to maintain it’s independence. Ceaser is going to demand tribute (though I agree with G – it may take closer to a decade).


Vader
June 27, 2015

It’s not even the funding I’m worried about. It’s:

a) There is precedent now, thanks to Liberty University, for the IRS to deny tax exemption to nonprofits whose policies are at odds with what the IRS decides is the public policy of the United States. Liberty University did not allow mixed-race married couples in student housing, for ostensibly religious reasons. You can take it from there.

If BYU loses its tax exemption, it will be a whole lot more expensive to run. Probably ruinously expensive.

2. Admittedly, this was already a threat, but now it’s more severe: disaccreditation. If BYU loses its accreditation, its degrees will be worthless for getting into graduate school no matter how bright the kid is or how high his GRE scores.

I take scant consolation in the thought at, if recent trends at the Maxwell Institute are any indication, there is a substantial population of professors at BYU that weren’t terribly comfortable being at The Lord’s University anyway. Now they’ll get what they wanted — good and hard.


MC
June 28, 2015

Vader,

Just as a side note, you’re thinking of Bob Jones University, not Liberty.

I don’t doubt we are headed that direction on taxes, but will federal taxes really matter that much? Even if BYU were treated as a taxable entity, it could only be taxed on its income, not its revenue. And since BYU is certainly not a profit center for the Church, I’m not sure they would owe a dime in federal taxes. Local property tax exemptions will be a much bigger deal for the Church overall due to our chapels, but I doubt BYU’s tax status with the State of Utah or the county or city will change much in the next few years.

Not trying to downplay the pressure on BYU, I’m just not sure it will come through taxes. Accreditation is a bigger issue, and one that will likely present an epic RFRA/1st Amendment case.


MC
June 28, 2015

Ivan,

If there’s any school that’s prepared to go without federal money, it’s BYU. They already subsidize the price of tuition down to $4,000 a year, which can easily be made up through a private lender like Zion’s Bank at a rate only slightly higher than the federal rate.


Leo
June 28, 2015

I think BYU could weather any storm. Accreditation? If the product (the graduate) is good enough, there will be a market for it. Does BYU really need someone else’s imprimatur? Taxes? I don’t see this as a problem unless the feds want to levy a new confiscatory tax.

The schools that are dependent on the federal government are the big Ivy League schools. They are essentially national universities that are bankrupting most of their students with ruinous loans. National student loan debt in the U.S. is a staggering $1.2 billion. This will cripple a generation or bankrupt the country or both.

The Church schools, in contrast, are run with the good of both the students and the larger community in mind and for the purpose of fulfilling God’s commandments.


bookslinger
June 28, 2015

If BYU loses tax exemption, it is theoretically possible BYU could lose the ability to receive tax exempt dollars (ie, money that originated with tax exempt charitable contributions) from the church.

The Irs could say that since the church gives 15% of its tithing income to Byu, that tithe payers can only count 85% of tithing as charitable contributions. Or the irs could tax it upon transfer from the church to Byu.


Zen
June 28, 2015

I had not heard of the Benedict Option before, but I came across it today. And in Time magazine no less. Yes, something worth reading in what is left of the magazine still called Time. I was shocked.
http://time.com/3938050/orthodox-christians-must-now-learn-to-live-as-exiles-in-our-own-country/

Now we are going to have to prove our commitment to Christ.


Wm
June 29, 2015

Much of what BYU contributes to the Church is in the form of educated professionals who can contribute financially and administratively to the Church, support large families, and develop relationships with non-LDS business and community leaders. The continued flow of those individuals would be severely hampered if BYU were to lose its accreditation. Ivy League and top-tier regional professional schools require undergraduate degrees from regionally accredited institutions. Certainly the type of young LDS interested in those career paths could not go to BYU and end up strengthening the institute programs at the universities they do attend, but that comes with its own risks and would weaken BYU further.

On the other hand, I’ve suggested in the past that Mormons should use the combination of low-cost technical training (which lead to trade jobs and/or small business creation), charter school options and lower housing costs & commute times in inner-ring suburbs to re-invigorate inner ring suburban wards where the Church has already invested in ward buildings and where more of the convert baptisms happen.


G.
June 29, 2015

The loss of accreditation would be difficult, because businesses and especially graduate institutions would be under a lot of pressure to not accept BYU degrees because that would put them on the side of reactionary bigotry, pressure to which they would certainly yield.


Leo
June 29, 2015

Re taxes: It is by no means impossible that the government could use the power to tax as the power to destroy. If the government wants to tax BYU, it could also go full rainbow and tax all the churches and deny tax exemptions for donations to those churches. Taxing churches and denying tax exemptions for charitable donations to churches is clearly on the left’s agenda. The LDS are better able to withstand that assault than most churches. Taxing only politically incorrect churches is another possibility. I think all this is unlikely in the near term, but we shall see.

Re accreditation: It is by no means impossible that small o orthodox schools could band together to recognize each other. Some conservative state schools would also recognize those accreditations. Despite the rivalry between the U and the Y, I can’t see the University of Utah medical school not recognizing a BYU undergraduate degree. Then there are foreign schools. Would all the world’s great schools refuse to recognize a BYU degree? Not if the Y produces a good product. Would Silicon Valley firms distain BYU grads? Maybe. But we can build our own companies, and plenty of Chinese and Korean firms anxious to take on Silicon Valley would hire good BYU grads.

I highly recommend the Rod Dreher essay referenced by Zen. The good news is that in the coming storm over religious liberty, we will have many interfaith allies. The bad news is that the elites are now arrayed against any small o orthodoxy. But we never really needed the blessing of the cultural and political elites anyway and rarely had it. It is good to be reminded that “the world” is not the standard we are expected to conform to. The Church and the all the churches have faced serious threats in the past and survived and even prospered.


Zen
June 29, 2015

That didn’t take long
http://thefederalist.com/2015/06/29/ending-tax-exemptions-means-ending-churches/

The suggestion has been made.


Nathaniel
June 29, 2015

It’s highly curious that the church was historically persecuted for their marriage beliefs, and now they look to be persecuted again for their marriage beliefs…

I think that says a lot about the church 🙂


Leo
June 29, 2015

Zen,

Sadly true.

A quote from your link: ““That will never happen, but when it does you Christians will deserve it.”

That is a restatement of Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility. Cf. Erick Erickson: “You will be made to care.”


MC
August 31, 2016

John Mansfield
August 31, 2016

Amazing numbers. Perhaps the most amazing is that all the other numbers were possible while admitting almost half of those who applied. I’m also trying to grasp that 1 in 9 BYU freshman graduated at the top of his/her high school class.


MC
September 1, 2016

JM, that’s an amazing figure, but perhaps somewhat less amazing when you consider that lots of schools have up to 10-15 valedictorians nowadays.

People usually say that’s because we don’t want anyone to “feel bad,” but I think it’s more because kids compete for No. 1 in such a cutthroat way nowadays that they distort their class schedules (i.e., refusing to take a class they would enjoy and find useful because it “only” gives them a chance for a 0.3 boost to their GPA rather than the 0.6 that they would get from an AP class). So I see where the schools are coming from, but it’s still rather ridiculous.

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