Submitted by ARJ
I was overjoyed a few years ago when the Perpetual Education Fund was announced. I had long felt that the Church could do more to help the members outside of the USA develop educationally and spiritually. I knew that many of the elders that I served with in Brazil had returned home to a life of poverty. I also knew that my brother’s mission in Chile had started a fund to send former missionaries to college, and that there were missionaries he had served with that were taking advantage of it.
I feel that my experiences in college both in and out of the classroom help to shape me into a more effective tool for the Lord’s use. Because of that, I was a bit perplexed when I learned that the PEF does not fund college educations.
When I tell this to people the general reaction is shock, since they’ve interpreted all the announcements about it to mean that funding college educations is exactly what it does. I am not sure whether this is a matter of selective hearing or of very carefully worded announcements about what the program does do. What it does do is provide loans to help members who meet certain criteria attend trade schools. These are programs such as computer training or auto repair.
I have nothing against computer training and certainly look forward to there being more honest auto mechanics in the world. I think these are wonderful things to fund. But if a member is qualified to go to college they are on their own financially.
This poses more problems than someone from the USA might think. In Brazil for example, there is a strong cultural bias against getting loans for college education. I am not sure if “educational loans” even exist there. Certainly no responsible lender would give young, poor, unproven Brazilian a loan for college. The tradition is that the elite can get into free state schools and those that don’t qualify for the state schools but can pay go to private schools. These private schools cost more than an untrained person can earn, so working your way through school isn’t an option. If your parents have money, great, otherwise you’re stuck.
I think it is great that the church provides the option of trade school to these members, which is an option that they didn’t have previously. But why not provide loans for the broader experience that college can offer? Wouldn’t the church benefit from having members with a variety of professions, including professors, doctors, engineers, and even lawyers?
I used to think that cost was the excuse, but obviously lots of tithing dollars are spent on each and every BYU student, and that isn’t even in the form of loans. Many BYU students receive scholarships on top of the subsidization that is already provided to them. So if cost were the issue, wouldn’t it make sense to incorporate some portion of each student’s BYU education into the PEF? Say, instead of subsidizing $10k each year, only subsidize $5k and make the other $5k a loan from the PEF. Note that I’ve made up those numbers. Use the savings to better fund the PEF around the world.
So am I off base here? Is there a good reason to not use PEF money for college educations? Is there a way to justify the money spent on BYU while not providing even loans for college in other countries?