Apparently unique amongst private schools, CES schools (such as BYU) have two tuition schedules: one for members, and one for non-members that is exactly double the one for members [actually, it’s risen to this rate from, as I remember, near parity over the past decade or so — a somewhat new budgetary solution]. Having seen state schools enact similar policies toward students who are non-residents of their states, CES schools have reasoned that because they are partially funded by tithing (money given to God), students who are tithe-payers or who are from tithe-paying families should merit a return of that support with lower tuition, but that non-members should not be given any such support.
Does it make a difference to BYU? Not really. Something like 1.2% of BYU students are non-members, so it’s a paltry amount the school is saving by this divisive yet theoretically justifiable policy (though the theory itself is imbalanced: every member pays a different amount of tithing, and comparatively few tithe-payers’ kids go to CES schools). The true effect is that it filters non-members out of a CES that otherwise claims to welcome them. The only argument to be made in support of it is that the Church has a preferential interest in educating its members that overpowers their interest in the general humanitarian education of all people.
But there’s a bigger problem presented to non-members than social disinclusion: the enticement to barter one’s religious loyalty for lucre, as is provided by this unequal tuition policy. One must go through the process of gaining Church membership, which, once done, will pay one off to the amount of thousands of dollars of saved tuition per semester. There is no thought of waiting until the person actually pays tithing, which at least, under the unfair theory, would justify them receiving a discount. The promise — that is, the unenforceable verbal contract — of paying tithing in the future, included in baptism, is sufficient in the eyes of the school… and that unenforceability would make the offer all the more enticing, I think.
I remember reading of Christ-ish churches following very similar programmes in Hong Kong… dispensing food and supplies in return for church membership during difficult post-war conditions. The proselytes were nicknamed “Rice Christians”, and their experience became an indelible stain on the missionary efforts of those bodies.
This strange tuition policy in fact got a bit stranger recently. Previously, if you had set your mind on Church membership of whatever duration, you would have had to make the switch to “LDS” before the tuition fee deadline every semester in order to enjoy the discount. Now, if you join the Church at any time during the school semester, you will (according to the student employee explanation I received of a school website statement) immediately be rolled back to “member” tuition and be credited with the couple thousand dollars you already paid extra.
Today I visited Gene Priday, an admissions counselor, to see if he could provide me with any explanation of these policies.
His opinion was that the social barriers he expected against Church membership would already be sufficient discouragement from joining the Church for a financial payback. He also pointed out that if a new member fails to live his religion, he will be unable to be endorsed to continue studying at BYU.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account the ease with which some people could for two or four years live more or less as a Church member, walk away with their extra thousands, and revert immediately to non-memberhood, leaving inflated membership figures in their wake.
The money’s not important, really — although a very heavy obligation falls upon anybody who uses tithing money, consecrated in humility to God by millions of individuals (and sometimes by terrific sacrifice), for any reason whatsoever; and those who make such decisions will stand or fall to their own Master for them. But I’d be happy if non-members were allowed to pay lower tuition here. This is probably the best place a non-member could possibly receive an education — even moreso than a member.
Worse is the washback that comes to a person who is tempted to join a church — a true church — insincerely, and for mixed motivations. The experience could scar him forever.
On the other hand, it could save him.
But above all, there are lines you must not cross as a steward of the gospel. You must not take away the free agency of those you are to minister to. You must not frighten them into the Church with vengeful threats of things you are ignorant of. You must not drive them into the Church by destroying their self-esteem, by ridiculing other beliefs. You must not guarantee them eternal rewards in return for financial support; and you must not lure them into the Church by offering financial rewards. No church is honourable that turns the work of preaching the gospel and saving souls into a commodity market. If BYU offers cash handouts for joining the Church, it is sowing corruption that it will surely someday reap… or, better still, someday repent of.
The effect of purchasing baptisms could be easily mitigated by simply establishing a mandatory waiting period between one’s baptism and one’s eligibility for a tuition fee discount. I had previously thought that a year would be a suitable time to wait; but if so, you’d have the situation appear where people who have been members for nearly a year will miss the deadline, and might be hurt to be forced to pay with non-members. In this case, I would also consider a waiting period of perhaps half a year, or one full semester, to be appropriate and inoffensive. On the other hand, even this risk could be eradicated simply by requiring in the application of every new student a demonstration that they will have already been a Church member for at least one year before beginning to study with the reduced price.
Brother Priday (besides probably being nonplussed by a student thinking he knew better than the establishment) was a bit change-averse and unwilling to question the determinations of those above him who he was confident had reviewed tuition policies in detail… while the gospel I’ve been taught contrarily forces me to continually hope to improve and build up this imperfect Body, and to that end, to bring problems to the satisfactory attention of those who have the authority to seek inspiration to change them… or to leave them.
If it were me in charge, anyway, I certainly wouldn’t want a flockfull of moral cowards who were afraid to so much as have an opinion, let alone express it — because such beings are simply not godlike, as the gospel intends to make us. I would rather be very interested if apparent problems were constructively reported to me that I had not considered. Or maybe I had considered them; but I would like to be made aware if people were having unexpected conflict with them.
I later consulted with Jim Slaughter, the BYU chaplain who deals with non-members (and speaks a bit of Crow language), on a separate issue, but brought up the discussion to him. He admitted it was naive to think there was no financial enticement present. He said he not infrequently received calls from foreigners who had reviewed the tuition fee information and, before anything else — before even knowing anything about the Church — wanted to inquire about Church membership.
Well, I don’t know what to do with the issue from here. But I know that even if I do nothing more…
…Ideas blow around, and eventually take root. I’ve thrown a seed today. Probably others have thrown it before, and others will yet.
[p.s. More and more frequently, I seem to find errors in this school I have thought was beautiful. Some are small, some are less small. This comment here isn’t even a current topic at BYU — the issue of the day is rather the secretive budget of the student assocation (and, by extension, the school itself). I could complain about that, too… and I think I will, on the news site…
Anyway, while there is in my mind a growing disconnection between the Church and this “Church school”, and while I want to predict a future change in finances of some sort, perhaps to relieve the Church of the increasing drag of the excessively temporal practices of this entity, I think people at BYU could be doing a far, far worse job than they are. The school is what it is. With all of its imperfection comes all of its non-imperfection, all of its superiority and uniqueness. It’s only against such a beautiful backdrop that I could even stand to complain about these issues that, in the end, are not fatal flaws.
But if God can’t allow “rightness” in even the least sin, we are unwise to train ourselves to do so — and especially to mask such a tendency with an artificial holiness or blind deference to authority or position, as prohibited in D&C 121, Mosiah 12, 1 Samuel 2, Spencer Kimball’s “Lock Your Hearts”, and elsewhere.
I’m still glad to study here… although if by any means I switched to another school, I think I’d be in a position to better appreciate it.]