“Institute Reaches Out to All Young Adults,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 79–80
In July 1993 the First Presidency announced an enhancement of the institute program to increase involvement of college-age young adults throughout the Church. For an update about the progress of this effort, the Ensign spoke with Stanley A. Peterson, Church Educational System administrator for religious education and secondary and elementary education.
Question: To start, could you describe the enhanced institute program.
Answer: The Church presently has over a million young adults aged eighteen to thirty, and this number is constantly increasing. The Church Educational System has offered institute of religion classes and activities to young adults all over the world for many years, but before 1993 we concentrated mainly on adding a gospel element to the educations of young adults attending colleges or universities. We didn’t discourage nonstudent young adults from participating in institute, but neither did we go out of our way to invite them to enroll in religion classes or come to social and service activities.
Realizing that young adulthood is a critical time of decision and development whether one is a student or not, the Church Board of Education decided that institute could be a powerful way to help all young adults build a stronger gospel foundation in their lives. Between the ages of eighteen and thirty, most young adults are deciding whether to serve a mission, whom to marry, and how to earn a living. As they experience adult independence and responsibility, they set patterns of behavior and commitment that will affect the rest of their lives. With classes about the scriptures, missionary preparation, and celestial marriage, and with meaningful social activities and service projects, institute can help all young adults make wiser decisions, shape stronger characters, increase their spirituality, and feel solidarity with their fellow Saints.
A study of people who graduated from institute over a twenty-four-year period in Boise, Idaho, highlights the effects of institute on individual lives. About 92 percent of the graduates are sealed to their spouses, 82 percent of the men and 31 percent of the women served missions, 74 percent hold personal prayer daily, 38 percent read the scriptures daily, 88 percent pay a full tithe, 98 percent keep the Word of Wisdom, and 77 percent hold a current temple recommend.
Q: How do you view the relationship between institute and the Church’s Young Adult program?
A: The enhanced institute program is no more designed to replace the Young Adult program than seminary is designed to replace the Young Men and Young Women programs. We encourage priesthood leaders to view institute as simply one more tool in the Church’s toolbox for blessing the lives of members. Young adults can easily fall through the cracks, and we hope the combination of institute and Young Adult units and programs helps them build stronger bonds with the Church and the gospel. For me, I know I need all the help I can get to assist the young adults in my family at this critical time in their lives.
Q: Is it too early to know if this new institute enhancement program has made an impact?
A: It is too early to get a complete picture of the impact this new emphasis will have, but we have some very exciting indications that the institute program is expanding at an ever increasing rate. In Guatemala City, for example, we’ve had to build a new institute building to meet the needs of the six hundred young adults now enrolled there. In Seattle, Washington, institute enrollment is up by 470 students. An institute fireside held in Orem, Utah, each year has in the past attracted up to six hundred young adults, but that number doubled when the invitation was extended to all young adults.
With enrollment limited at the Church’s university and colleges, institute has become more important to young adults. Study has shown that the opportunities for young people are enhanced when larger numbers associate together in social and service activities and in religious education. We’d like to see institute become as central in the Church experience of young adults as seminary is in the experience of the youth.
Q: Are there challenges that the Church faces as the institute program expands?
A: With higher enrollments comes the need for more classroom space and more instructors. In the past, we’ve conducted classes in or near about twelve hundred schools of higher learning worldwide. However, rather than asking nonstudent young adults to drive to and park at what are often large, crowded campuses, we are trying to bring institute classes to them. We are building more institute buildings, and classes are now often held in released-time seminary buildings, local stake centers, and meetinghouses. As we have with seminary, we are relying more and more on volunteers to teach institute classes.
To make sure that the needs of all young adults are met, a new Young Adult council structure has been organized that allows young adults to direct their own activities under priesthood supervision. However, we still rely on priesthood leaders to keep communication channels open. When a Churchwide CES institute fireside is broadcast, for example, we need priesthood leaders to promote the date and time in meetings. We also rely on priesthood leaders to inform young adults about what programs are available in locations where individuals are moving for school or work. The Church Educational System annually circulates a directory of institutes and Young Adult units to priesthood leaders for this purpose. When local leaders and members catch the vision of this opportunity for all their young adults, tremendous things can happen anywhere in the world.