Church Educational System

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Church Educational System
Church Educational System logo.svg
TypeElementary, Secondary, and Higher Education
CommissionerClark G. Gilbert[1]
Academic staff
ca. 50,000
Studentsca. 700,000
Campus3 universities;
1 college;
1 all online certificate and degree programs;
15 elementary and secondary schools;
8,039 seminary and institute programs
HeadquartersSalt Lake City, Utah
AffiliationsThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
WebsiteChurch Education

The Church Educational System (CES) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) consists of several institutions that provide religious and secular education for both Latter-day Saint and non–Latter-day Saint elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students and adult learners. Approximately 700,000 individuals were enrolled in CES programs in 143 countries in 2011.[2] CES courses of study are separate and distinct from religious instruction provided through wards (local congregations). Clark G. Gilbert, a general authority seventy, has been the CES Commissioner since August 1, 2021.[1]


The University of Deseret was established in 1850 to supervise other public schools in the territory. Public taxation instituted in 1851 supported these schools, which were organized by wards, with their teacher employed by the local bishop. These early public schools were often used church meetinghouses as their schoolroom.[3]: 11  While Utah's colonization was started by members of the LDS Church (also called Mormons), twenty percent of the territory's residents were not Mormon by 1880. This non-Mormon minority wished for a state government that was less Mormon, including for public schools that were independent from the LDS Church.[3]: 8–9  Non-Mormon schools petitioned for and received federal aid, and the first Protestant missionary school opened in Salt Lake City in 1867.[3]: 13  From 1869–1890, there were 90 non-Mormon schools from other Christian denominations. Over half of their students were Mormon.[3]: 14 

The Edmunds–Tucker Act of 1887 prohibited use of "sectarian" or religious books in the classroom, and changed the district superintendent position to one that was appointed instead of elected. The Free School Act of 1890 established that public schools would be "free from sectarian control." This legislation separated the LDS Church from the public schools.[3]: 18–19  Wilford Woodruff disliked the new public schools, calling them a "great evil," and created the academies system and an after-school program of religious classes for children.[3]: 20–22  The first Church Board of Education was formed in 1888 to supervise the academies. The board consisted of Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon, Karl G. Maeser, Horace S. Eldredge, Willard Young, George W. Thatcher, Anthon H. Lund, and Amos Howe.[4]: 19–20  Thirty academies were formed between 1888 and 1895, but many families could not afford the tuition of the private academies. A few academies became junior colleges and trained teachers, and some continued as private Church-sponsored high schools.[3]: 20–22  Most academies closed within the decade due to the depressions of 1893 and 1896. Some of the stronger academies persisted before being dissolved during church education cutbacks in the 1920s.[5] Release-time seminary classes started in 1912 at Granite High School in Salt Lake City, and grew to serve 26,000 students by 1930.[3]: 20–22 

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion[edit]

In 2014, the Seminaries and Institutes programs served over 744,000 students in seminaries and institutes in 137 countries.[6]: 398–399 


In the LDS Church, the word seminary refers to religious education programs designed for secondary students. These are programs of religious education for youth aged 14–18 that accompany the students' secular education. In areas with large concentrations of Latter-day Saints, such as in and around the Mormon Corridor in the United States, instruction is offered on a released time basis during the normal school day in meetinghouses, or facilities built specifically for seminary programs, adjacent to public schools. Released-time seminary classes are generally taught by full-time employees. In areas with smaller LDS populations early-morning or home-study seminary programs are offered. Early-morning seminary classes are held daily before the normal school day in private homes or in meetinghouses and are taught by volunteer teachers. Home-study seminary classes are offered where geographic dispersion of students is so great that it is not feasible to meet on a daily basis. Home-study seminary students study daily, but meet only once a week as a class. Home-study classes are usually held in connection with weekly youth fellowship activities on a weekday evening.[7] The church is piloting an online version of home-study seminary which allows for more student participation and communication. This helps provide a greater sense of community and connection as well as a chance to learn the gospel in a similar way that students do in areas with a larger concentrations of LDS youth.[8]

The seminary program provides extensive study of theology, using as texts the church's "standard works" (Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants) throughout the school week, in addition to normal Sunday classes. The four courses are taught, one per year, on a rotating basis.[7] Historically, seminary students were encouraged to study each scriptural text on their own time and to memorize a total of 100 scriptural passages or "scriptural mastery" verses during their participation in the four-year program. In 2016, the focus turned from scripture mastery to doctrinal mastery.[9] For many years, the curriculum has followed the standard school year for most seminary students. However, in March 2019, the LDS Church announced that the curriculum would be changed to align with the home-centered, church-supported curriculum changes announced in the church's October 2018 general conference.[10]

Institutes of Religion[edit]

Students who enroll in post-secondary education and young adults ages 18–30 receive religious education through institutes of religion.[11] CES Institutes served over 350,000 students worldwide in 2005.[12] Many colleges throughout the United States either have institute buildings or active programs near their campuses. Sometimes classes occur in ward buildings, office buildings, or private homes. Teachers can be either volunteers or paid employees.[11]

The first Institute of Religion was established in northern Idaho at Moscow, adjacent to the University of Idaho. Currently the largest enrollment is at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. The largest enrollment outside the state of Utah is at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho.[citation needed]

Elementary and secondary schools[edit]

CES institutions provide elementary and secondary schools in Mexico and in the Pacific Islands. Church schools expanded while David O. McKay was president of the LDS Church, with new schools opening in New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, and other Pacific islands. The schools relied on volunteers.[13]: 99 


In 1886, the Mexican state of Chihuahua housed an outpost for Latter-day Saints fleeing anti-polygamy laws in the US.[6]: 389  In an attempt to escape persecution, more than three hundred Latter-day Saints settled in nine different communities in Chihuahua and Sonora.[6]: 390  The Academia Juárez was opened in 1887.[6]: 389 

The Juárez Stake Academy was first established in September 1897 with 291 students. Located within the church's Colonia Juárez in Chihuahua, the school was similar to academies in the Utah territory and provided English-language instruction intended for "an Anglo population."[6]: 391  The school was not closed when other academies were closed in the 1920s and 1930s, likely because public school education in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution was inadequate.[6]: 392  Settlers from Utah Territory remained isolated and aloof from native Mexicans, celebrating American holidays and teaching in English.[6]: 393  Moises de la Pena, a Mexican academic, declared that the school was an "illegal privilege" in 1950.[6]: 394–395  The school is still in operation, with 418 students as of the 2012-2013 school year, and approximately 80% of the students are members of the church. The school now utilizes a unique dual-language program beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

The internationalization of the LDS Church in the 1950s and 1960s corresponded with an increase in native Mexican membership. Scholarships for these members to Juárez Academy encouraged its diversification. Additionally, the Church expanded its educational program. It ran elementary schools in various places in Mexico and opened a high school in Mexico City, Centro Escolar Benemerito De Las Americas, in 1964.[6]: 395  The curriculum changed in accordance with Mexican law, with off-campus religious instruction. Campus culture changed as schools celebrated Mexican holidays and included Mexican culture in its curriculum.[6]: 396  In 1967, Hispanic students made up 50% of the student body.[6]: 397  Benemerito De Las Americas closed in 2013 when the campus was converted into a Missionary Training Center.[14] As of 2014, 400 students attended Juárez Academy. Most students are Latin American, and about seventy-five percent are LDS.[6]: 389 

Pacific Islands[edit]

Initially, schools in the Pacific Islands were run by missionaries and directed by mission presidents. The Pacific Board of Education was organized in June 1957 to oversee the schools in the Pacific Islands.[15] Wendell B. Mendenhall was the first chairman of the board, with Owen J. Cook as executive secretary. The Pacific Board of Education approved faculty, wrote policies, and defined budgets. Each school in Pacific Islands has its own president/principal and administrative board.[16] The schools under the Pacific Board of Education were transferred to the Church Board of Education in 1964. In the 1970s, under the leadership of Neal A. Maxwell, church schools in the Pacific started to hire administrators from local members, in contrast to the previously American administrators.[17]

South America[edit]

Schools established in Chile in the 1960s; at its largest, church schools had 3,000 students across eight elementary schools and one secondary school. The schools closed in the 1980s.[13]: 97–98  Church-sponsored elementary schools opened in Lima in 1966. Over the next five years, elementary schools opened in La Paz, Bolivia and Asuncion, Paraguay.[13]: 116 


Shortly after the first mission was organized in Chile in 1961,[13]: 102  Dale Harding became the superintendent of two elementary schools in La Cisterna and Vina del Mar, which were opened in March 1964.[13]: 103, 106  Rather than use the traditional lecture-exam format, teachers varied their teaching methods to include group work and in-service training.[13]: 111–112  After the first year, all the children passed their government-administered end-of-year exams, with many performing very well.[13]: 110–111  In 1967, Lyle J. Loosle became the new superintendent. Under his leadership, volunteers supported new elementary schools in Nunoa and Talcahuano.[13]: 114–115 

In 1970, the Church Board of Education approved the purchase of a Catholic school near Santiago.[13]: 117  Later that year, Salvador Allende, a Marxist, was elected as president, and Church members were uncertain about the future of the LDS Church and Church schools.[13]: 118  The minister of education requested using a church building for another session of schooling.[13]: 120  In response, Loosle increased enrollment to ensure that the schools were always operating at full capacity. Kindergartens operated in LDS chapels in Arica, Inquique, and La Calera to keep them from being used by the government for other purposes.[13]: 121  After Allende was overthrown, the kindergartens closed.[13]: 129 

In 1972, Jorge Rojas, the new superintendent from Mexico,[13]: 123  dismissed two non-member teachers and made other reforms. Other teachers formed a union to protest new policies. Loosle was asked to return as superintendent after Church headquarters reassigned Rojas to a school in Mexico. Loosle dismissed teacher's union leaders when they refused to resign.[13]: 124  The union leaders demanded reinstatement.[13]: 125  Loosle asked teachers to repent of their unionization; some union members left the school, while others left the union. Loosle rehired some of the union leaders.[13]: 125  In 1973, Beningno Pantoja Arratia became the new superintendent, and he made several reforms, including requiring ecclesiastical interviews.[13]: 129  In 1970, Neal A. Maxwell became the Church Commissioner of Education, a new position overseeing Church schools, seminaries, and institutes.[13]: 129  A 1971 policy from Maxwell stated that non-religious education should only be provided by the Church when "other educational systems are nonexistent, seriously deficient or inaccessible to our members."[13]: 130  Chilean church schools started to close in 1977, with the Church's growth and adequate public schools given as reasons for closure.[13]: 130  By 1981, Church schools had completely closed in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay.[13]: 131 

Academies today[edit]

Oneida Stake Academy, Preston, Idaho

Some of academies remain historical landmarks, such as the Oneida Stake Academy and the Big Horn Academy. The Juarez Academy in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, is still operated as a secondary school by the LDS Church today.[citation needed]

A few church academies eventually evolved into colleges or universities. These include:

The LDS Church also established formal colleges and universities:

In the mid-20th century, the church established secondary schools outside of the United States to provide education where it was not fully available. These include:

Higher education[edit]

Institutions of higher education run by the church include Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University–Idaho, Brigham Young University–Hawaii, and Ensign College, along with a higher education organization, BYU–Pathway Worldwide.

Satellite campuses[edit]

General administration[edit]

Church Board of Education and Boards of Trustees[edit]

Boards of Trustees/Education[30] Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring
Jeffrey R. Holland*
D. Todd Christofferson*
Paul V. Johnson*
Michael T. Ringwood
Gérald Caussé
Camille N. Johnson*
Bonnie H. Cordon
Steven J. Lund
R. Kelly Haws, Secretary

NOTE: Individuals with an asterisk (*) by their names serve as members of the Executive Committee of the Board. The senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, currently Holland, serves as the committee's chairman.

Office of the Commissioner of Church Education[edit]

Commissioner, Church Educational System Clark G. Gilbert[1]
Assistant to the Commissioner and Secretary to the Boards R. Kelly Haws
Director, Budgets and Administration, Church Educational System Michael J. Christensen

Presidents / Administrator of individual CES units[edit]

President / Administrator CES Unit Location
Kevin J Worthen Brigham Young University Provo, Utah
John S. K. Kauwe III Brigham Young University–Hawaii Laie, Hawaii
Henry J. Eyring Brigham Young University–Idaho Rexburg, Idaho
Brian K. Ashton BYU–Pathway Worldwide Salt Lake City, Utah
Bruce C. Kusch Ensign College Salt Lake City, Utah
Chad H Webb Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Salt Lake City, Utah

Chronology of the Commissioner of Church Education[edit]

The office of Church Commissioner of Education was suspended in 1989, when trustees decided to deal directly with individual administrators. The position was reinstated in 1992.[31]: 173 

No. Dates Individual Title
1 1888–1901 Karl G. Maeser Superintendent of Church Schools
2 1901–05 Joseph M. Tanner Superintendent of Church Schools
3 1905–20 Horace H. Cummings Commissioner of Church Schools
4 1920–21 David O. McKay Commissioner of Church Education
5 1921–24 John A. Widtsoe Commissioner of Church Education
6 1928–33 Joseph F. Merrill Commissioner of Church Education
7 1934–36 John A. Widtsoe Commissioner of Church Education
8 1936–53 Franklin L. West Commissioner of Church Education
9 1953–64 Ernest L. Wilkinson Administrator–Chancellor of the Unified Church School System
10 1964-1970 Harvey L. Taylor Administrator of the Unified Church School System[32]


11 1970–76 Neal A. Maxwell Commissioner of Church Education
12 1976–80 Jeffrey R. Holland Commissioner of Church Education
13 1980–86 Henry B. Eyring Commissioner of Church Education
14 1986–89 J. Elliot Cameron Commissioner of Church Education
15 1992–2004 Henry B. Eyring Commissioner of Church Education
16 2005–08 W. Rolfe Kerr Commissioner of Church Education
17 2008–15 Paul V. Johnson Commissioner of Church Education
18 2015–19[33] Kim B. Clark Commissioner of Church Education
19 2019–21 Paul V. Johnson Commissioner of Church Education
20 2021– Clark G. Gilbert[1] Commissioner of Church Education

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d See this article for verification.
  2. ^ "History of Seminary". LDS Church. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Esplin, Scott C.; Randall, E. Vance (2014). "Living in two worlds: the development and transition of Mormon education in American society". History of Education. 43 (1): 3–30. doi:10.1080/0046760X.2013.844276. ISSN 0046-760X. S2CID 144486602.
  4. ^ By Study and Also By Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2015. ISBN 978-1-4651-1878-3.
  5. ^ Scott C. Esplin (2010). "Wilford Woodruff: A Founding Father of the Mormon Academies". Banner of the Gospel: Wilford Woodruff. Religious Studies Center. Retrieved 2015-03-24.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Esplin, Scott C.; Randall, E. Vance; Griffiths, Casey P.; Morgan, Barbara E. (2014-10-02). "Isolationism, exceptionalism, and acculturation: the internationalisation of Mormon education in Mexico". Journal of Educational Administration and History. 46 (4): 387–404. doi:10.1080/00220620.2014.940859. S2CID 143692137.
  7. ^ a b "Seminary is a Global, Four-Year Religious Educational Program for Youth". Mormon Newsroom. 12 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Online Seminary Resources".
  9. ^ Prescott, Marianne Holman. "Seminaries to Implement New Doctrinal Mastery Initiative". Church News. LDS Church.
  10. ^ Stauffer, Mckenzie. "LDS Church to change seminary curriculum, schedule in Jan. 2020". KUTV. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions—Institute".
  12. ^ "LDS Institute: Education is Strongly Emphasizes by Mormon Leaders". Mormon Newsroom.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Griffiths, Casey Paul; Esplin, Scott C. (2014). ""Colegias Chilenes de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias": The History of Latter-day Saint Schools in Chile". Journal of Mormon History. 40 (1): 97–134.
  14. ^ Walker, Joseph (30 January 2013). "Missionary surge prompts LDS Church to open new MTC in Mexico".
  15. ^ Hartshorn, Leon Roundy (1965). Mormon Education in the Bold Years (Dissertation). pp. 186–187.
  16. ^ Tyler, V. Lynn (1964). The Religious Education Program of the Pacific Board of Education (Thesis). pp. 7–8. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  17. ^ Woodger, Mary Jane (March 2019). "David O. McKay's Educational Model for Mormon Schools in the Pacific, 1906–1940" (PDF). International Journal of Education and Social Science. 6 (3): 31.
  18. ^ BYA became BYU in 1903.
  19. ^ Salt Lake Academy would become LDS College (1889), LDS University (1901), LDS College (1927), and LDS Business College (1931).
  20. ^ a b D. Michael Quinn (Winter 1973). "The Brief Career of Young University at Salt Lake City". Utah Historical Quarterly. 41 (1): 70, 76, 78, 82, 86–87. Retrieved 2015-03-24.
  21. ^ Bannock Stake Academy would become Fremont Stake Academy (1898), Ricks Academy (1903), Ricks Normal College (1918), Ricks College (1923), and Brigham Young University–Idaho (2001).
  22. ^ Sanpete Stake Academy became Snow Academy (1900), Snow Normal College (1917), Snow Junior College (1922), and Snow College (1923). The state of Utah took ownership of the school in 1931.
  23. ^ Weber Stake Academy became Weber Academy (1902), Weber Normal College (1918), Weber College (1922), Weber State College (1962), and Weber State University (1991). The state of Utah took ownership of the school in 1933.
  24. ^ St. Joseph Academy would become LDS Academy (1898), Gila Academy (1911), Gila Normal College (1920), Gila Junior College (1923), Gila Junior College of Graham County (1933), Eastern Arizona Junior College (1950), Eastern Arizona College (1966). The state of Arizona took ownership of the school in 1933. See:
  25. ^ St. George Stake Academy became Dixie Normal College (1916), Dixie Junior College (1923), Dixie College (1970), Dixie State College of Utah (2000), Dixie State University (2013), and Utah Tech University (2022). The state of Utah took ownership of the school in 1935.
  26. ^ The University of Utah was founded as a state (or territorial) school, but this was directed and performed by church leaders under the auspices of the State of Deseret, months before Utah Territory had been created. The LDS Church also gave substantial support to save the school during the late 1800s. See Quinn 1973.
  27. ^ The Church College of New Zealand was a secondary school: in New Zealand and throughout Oceania, "colleges" are secondary schools.
  28. ^ Walker, Joseph (January 30, 2013), "Missionary surge prompts LDS Church to open new MTC in Mexico", Deseret News
  29. ^ "Mexico MTC Opens to Train Hundreds of Missionaries". 26 June 2013.
  30. ^ This link verifies the current board membership.
  31. ^ a b Bergera, Gary James (1996). "Ernest L. Wilkinson and the Office of Church Commissioner of Education". Journal of Mormon History. 22 (1): 137–173. ISSN 0094-7342. JSTOR 23287419.
  32. ^ Bergera, Gary James; Priddis, Ronald (1985), "Chapter 1: Growth & Development", Brigham Young University: A House of Faith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 0-941214-34-6, OCLC 12963965
  33. ^ Clark's term ended August 1, 2019.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]