“Institute Program Encourages Increased Participation,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 78–79
Today, one year after the Church Educational System announced the new Institute of Religion Enhancement Program, positive effects from the policy are already noticeable in many institutes in the United States and Canada.
The new institute of religion policy is that all nonstudent, young single adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty who live in the immediate area of an institute of religion are encouraged to enroll in classes and participate in the social and service activities of the institute. Previously, nonstudents were allowed to attend on a space-available basis.
For institutes, this change has meant bigger classes, more community involvement, and in general a more-active young adult program. For example, three years ago in the institute of religion at Toronto, Canada, there were only three students enrolled, says Farrell Monson, former CES coordinator for that area. After implementing the enhancement program, there are still only three student participants, but there are now forty-two nonstudents who attend. “It made us a functioning institute,” he says.
Brother Farrell explains that because higher education is extremely expensive in Canada, many young adults there do not attend universities.
“The enhancement program, which instructs us to actively invite nonstudents, is just what we needed,” he explains. “Before, we encouraged seminary attendance. Now we encourage both seminary and institute attendance, and many are benefiting from it.”
The institute at Toronto is not an isolated case. Of the 440 institutes located in the United States and Canada, a number have reported an increase in attendance since the new program began.
“There are definitely more nonstudents going to institute now because of the enhancement push,” says Clarence F. Schramm, executive assistant to the administrator of CES. However, he adds that there is still more room for involvement.
According to an institute directory published by the Church, there were an estimated 44,371 young adults enrolled in institute programs during the 1993–94 school year in the United States and Canada, excluding students at Brigham Young University in Provo and Hawaii and those at Ricks College in Idaho. This represents only 20 percent of the total number of Latter-day Saint young adults who live in areas with an institute of religion nearby and who are between the ages of eighteen and thirty.
“In most institutes, there are plenty of opportunities, space, and resources for at least two and half times more people to get involved,” explains Brother Schramm.
The change in the institute policy came following directives by the Board of Education, which includes the First Presidency, six members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Church commissioner of education, and the general presidents of the Relief Society and Young Women organizations.
“These leaders have long been concerned about young people,” says Brother Schramm. “They decided this was the time and this was the way to reach out to young adults.”
Bishop Roger Manning, director of the Tallahassee Florida Institute of Religion and bishop of a young adult ward, says the organization of an institute council makes a big difference. This council includes students, nonstudents, members of the Latter-day Saint Student Association, institute directors, local priesthood leaders, and leaders from the stake young adult program.
“The way things are organized, a lot more is covered than used to be,” Bishop Manning says. When he went to Tallahassee to direct the institute program in 1992, there were 47 students in institute. Now there are 132 people enrolled—many of whom are working young adults with college degrees.
But more important than the numbers enrolled in an institute program are the feelings of unity and acceptance the program’s change has brought to many young adults who are seeking friendship with those who share their same standards and values.
A new statement of purpose for the institutes of religion emphasizes that the institute program is to provide student and nonstudent young adults with opportunities for religious education, service activities, social interaction, leadership training, and spiritual growth. The program also encourages young people to serve full-time missions and marry in the temple.
“I can’t attribute everything to the institute program,” says Bishop Manning, “but I see some good things happening.”
He says last year in his ward there were twelve marriages. Ten of the marriages were in the temple, and of those ten couples, all were involved in the institute program.
Brother Schramm says last year was a year of organization for the priesthood and institute leaders. Once the program is fully operating in the United States and Canada, the same policy will be implemented in institutes all over the world.
The hardest part of implementing the institute enhancement program is making sure nonstudents and students alike know how important it is for them to enroll, says Brother Schramm. Sometimes, he says, institute is the best-kept secret in the Church.
The Orem Utah Institute of Religion is doing its best to make all the young adults in the area aware of the new things that are happening. Jan Felix, director of the institute, says that the institute has spread the news by sending out institute class schedules to all young adults who live in the area. Last May they also placed an institute flyer in every seminary graduation program in Utah Valley. This not only informed the graduating high school seniors, but it informed their parents and family members as well.