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Perpetual Education Fund

Guest - July 25, 2005

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?


  1. Excellent post Randmom John. I agree with you whole hartedly that the PFE should be extended to college educations. The benifits to the Church would be astronomical. It would definitely improve leadership in wards and stakes in 3rd world areas, plus with a higher education comes higher paying jobs which equals to higher amounts of tithing.

    Comment by Brett — July 26, 2005 @ 2:05 am

  2. My understanding on this is that the church wants to extend the PEF to university education but that there aren’t enough funds available. In other words, donations are, perhaps, needed.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — July 26, 2005 @ 7:58 am

  3. Last week there was an article in the Wall Street Journal on the immutability of class in Mexico. Jobs are handed down several generations, possibilities in society depend on connections, and education doesn’t change that much. The Saints being served by the PEF don’t live in countries with the social mobility of the United States. We that do, already had plenty of education possibilities provided by our nations.

    Helping our young adults in Latin America became skilled, self-employable tradesmen will probably do more for them than a dead-end college education.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 26, 2005 @ 8:37 am

  4. Well, you’ll have to rank me among those who didn’t know the PEF doesn’t extend to college education. I guess I had just assumed…

    My initial feeling is that it should provide funding for university educations. It seems like a glaring omission and because of that I imagine the Church has a pretty good reason it doesn’t.

    I might have a bad memory but it seems they said they don’t need any more money (am I high?).

    While I would love to see all of our brothers and sisters be educated at a university, I can imagine a large portion of them wouldn’t know what to do with it (not like us North Americans know what to do with it, our culture is just more conducive to a university grad).

    Comment by Rusty — July 26, 2005 @ 9:47 am

  5. RT,

    I’d love to see a source for that. What I seem to be hearing is that there has been any overwhelming amount of support for the program, not that they need more money to accomplish its goals. I’ve certainly never heard that they’d love to fund college education but simply need more money to do so. I think that my BYU funding example points out that if this were a priority then some funding could be diverted from subsidizing BYU in order to allow the PEF to give loans for college outside the USA.

    Comment by a random John — July 26, 2005 @ 9:49 am

  6. John Mansfield,

    It seems a bit hard hearted to tell someone that they can’t get an education because you’ve decided that they don’t have the connections to use it. You might be right and that is the reason, but I’d be pretty shocked if it were.

    For one thing, any member of the Church has lots of connections. If its connections that you think are important, then I encourage you to look at whether members of the Church hire other members in Latin America. It is my experience that they do, and that they’d love to have more educated members to hire.

    Secondly, if this is so, then the
    Church is actively participating in maintaining this class system by buying into it. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case.

    Finally, if the PEF is funding low-level computer training, why can’t it fund someone getting a CS degree? Even if they can’t immediately get a job that requires the CS degree, they could probably get a better computer related job than someone that has only been through a cert program.

    Comment by a random John — July 26, 2005 @ 10:00 am

  7. What if the answer is that a CS degree will not improve a young man’s job prospects in his country? Would you still want the Church to fund an American-style ladder to success that in that country leads nowhere?

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 26, 2005 @ 11:00 am

  8. I think John Mansfield raises a good point, but does becoming a doctor or a lawyer in your native country ever really lead to “nowhere”? Maybe we shouldn’t encourage every recipient to attend college, but at least it should be an option.

    Comment by Elisabeth — July 26, 2005 @ 11:07 am

  9. President Hinckley mentioned the possibility of expanding the program to university education when he made the first announcement. It would be a great move on the part of the church.

    In any event, I suppose the church is overly cautious by nature and wants to see how the program works on a small scale, i.e., small loans for one or two-year vocational training, before expanding. President Hinckley has mentioned, more than once, that graduates are earning 3-4 times more than they would otherwise. Since I have no idea what kind of wages we are talking about, I don’t know how encouraged I should be. He certainly seems pleased with these numbers in General Conference.

    The PEF site touches upon this issue.

    When I hear the stories about members in third-world countries who sell practically all their possessions to travel to the temple or attend school, I wonder why tithing funds cannot be used to help them. Couldn’t wealthier members act as sponsors of sorts in these cases?

    Comment by Justin — July 26, 2005 @ 11:17 am

  10. This is only a shot in the dark. And necessarily so. I assume that the PEF was established based on extensive deliberations and studies—including perhaps economic models. Of course, we are not privy to such deliberations and data. But I assume that President Hinckley and those working at his direction have at least thought about this.

    Indeed, I think it should be noted that what is at stake with the PEF is more than the improvement of individual lives—it is the financial future of the church. I take it that tithes and offerings are not sufficient to sustain the church in some impoverished areas where the church has grown rapidly. If this pattern continues, the church could go insolvent or be forced to scale back on such expensive things as new building construction.

    When I came to understand that the PEF does not fund college education (something that did surprise me too), the following possibilities came to mind:

    (1) the return per dollar invested may be greater with generally short and inexpensive trade education;

    (2) the PEF may be able to reach more people if resourses are dedicated exclusively to generally shorter and less expensive trade education;

    (3) there are at least some college programs the PEF probably should not fund—while I value art, literature, philosophy, and so on, it strikes me that getting steady and reasonably well-paying jobs should be the priority. As it is, the PEF largely avoids distinguishing between practical and impractical college courses and departments.

    (4) finally, an intuitive point based on my own family history: through the generations, my family has gradually shifted from farmers, sheep-herders, and laborers to holders of bachelors degrees holding down typical business jobs to holders of graduate and professional degrees working as doctors, lawyers, consultants, writers, etc. This development has been organic in a sense. Much of the skills and confidence of each generation were not obtained in adulthood in college, but learned from parents and siblings as they did what they did. Perhaps there is some wisdom in not attempting to change grown men and women overnight from impoverished laborers to lawyers and doctors. Not that particular individuals aren’t bright enough to do it, but that they may do much better at holding down a steady job and building a foundation—financial and otherwise—for their children and grandchildren to develop further and further.

    Comment by Shawn Bailey — July 26, 2005 @ 11:30 am

  11. Shawn,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that this is a wonderful program and that it will bring long term benefits to both the participants and the church as a whole. I’d like to address some of your points:

    1 – It is unclear if you mean return to the PEF or return to the participants. In either case I think there is an argument to be made that a college education provides either the same or a greater return. In the case of return to the PEF, the money is a loan, so it is coming back in either way. In the case of financial return for the individual, I would guess that the greater lifetime returns of more education that we are all familiar with in the USA play out in other countries as well.

    2 – I can’t argure with that, and that seems to be the take home point of the page that Justin provided the link to. However, if they need more money to more fully implement the program then I don’t think that the members are getting that message. Again, there is lots of money spent by the Church on higher education in the USA, where there is much less need.

    3 – If that is so then perhaps BYU should no longer subsidize the programs that you mention. I don’t think that members in other countries should be treated as second class citizens when it comes to their educational choices. I would guess that many would select very practical careers out of exigency, which ties into point 4…

    4 – I agree that there is an organic process at work here. I believe John Adams made a statement in which he said that he fought a war and studied government so that his children could study science and engineering and their children could study art and philosophy. I don’t know that this process can’t be accelerated somewhat though. Certainly if someone is qualified to go to college, which is an accomplishment in itself in many of these areas, then it seems like a weak arguement to say, “You can’t go to college because your dad didn’t finish high school. You can go to trade school and maybe your children can go to college.”

    Of course all of this hinges on your item #2. If the money were there would your other arguments go away?

    Comment by a random John — July 26, 2005 @ 12:32 pm

  12. I served in the Philippines. I was very excited about the creation of the PEF. I always worried about my Filipino companions that returned home to a life of subsistence farming and poverty as we returned to higher education. I think the PEF as currently consitituted gives the most “bang for the buck.” I don’t think the church is worried about the economics of the church, but it is worried about the economic situation of individual families.

    Comment by RS — July 26, 2005 @ 12:48 pm

  13. I took an African History class and we spent a good deal of time on the economic status of many of the countries there (i.e. why they failed, how people are coping, theories on what should be done, etc) One time we watched a documentary on a young man from Cameroon who recieved a degree in law but could not get a job and had to borrow money from his mother’s woman’s orginization to start a shoe business.
    I’m not sure how that fits in with this discussion but it I tend to agree that the church is always exploring ideas on how to expand the PEF but is starting with trade school stuff because that seems to be in high demand in 3rd world countries where larger degrees are not (probebly depending on the country, but I doubt the church is going to deny funds to one and give to another because they’re in the wrong country)

    Comment by Bret — July 26, 2005 @ 4:42 pm

  14. At the Family History Library in SLC last month I asked for information about that other PEF–the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. In particular, I wondered if my ancestors had got help from the PEF to emigrate from England.

    A man at the Library said that they did not have any records of the people who received PEF assistance, but there was a roster of all the Saints whose PEF debts were forgiven in a Jubilee in 1877. He also said that a large percentage of the loans were never repaid.

    Assuming that he had his facts right, it may be that the experience with the PEF in the 19th century is informing the brethren’s policy with the new PEF. Keep the amounts of debt small, and increase the chance that the debts will be paid.

    (I was pleased, by the way, that my ancestors were not on the list of those who did not repay their debts.)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 26, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

  15. Ok, as to matter of selective hearing do you listen to the conference talks and stories? They are all about trade school.

    Fast, high impact, low cost. So, one kid to college for four years or fifty to trade schools? The program is very pragmatic.

    As for BYU, the whole concept is different, different purposes, often thought about and considered. Should BYU turn into an LDS USC or SMU? There is enough mass in the Church for that to happen. It would solidify and create class boundaries in the Church like nothing before or since. That has been rejected since the 1970s.

    Anyway, the PEF has been strongly and honestly described over and over again.

    My two bits.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — July 26, 2005 @ 7:56 pm

  16. Stephen M,

    You are obviously a better listener than I am. And a better listener than anyone I’ve spoken to about this, since they’ve all been under the wrong impression. I don’t think anything is being hidden, I just think we’re hearing what we want to.

    I really doubt your 50:1 ratio, but a 5:1 or even 10:1 wouldn’t surprise me.

    I really don’t think that the subsidization of schools run by the Church is irrelevant.

    Comment by a random John — July 26, 2005 @ 9:20 pm

  17. I’m not a cultural anthro or development specialist; but…

    Why do y’all want to impose a U.S./Western based model for opportunity upon those living in other countries that have different cultural and economic systems?

    No, I am not adapting the “Mexico” (or insert any other non-Western country here) is too static for socio-economic advancement.

    However, y’all are assuming that a university education is the ticket in other countries.

    While it is probably the most _likely_ ticket in W. Economies, it certainly doesn’t work that way in most of the rest of the world.

    So, at least for a few moments, let us put on our marxist/imperialist/colonialist studies hats and ponder whether
    the PEF was designed (maybe even with inspiration?) for the countries where it exists that don’t have a large quantity of jobs which require college degrees; but do have tons of jobs based on manufacturing and trade school type knowledge?

    sidenote: at least in Europe, lots of kids don’t get a college education, but are sent/choose to go to trade schools instead. why is this? are the EU governments “buying” into the class system and perpetuating it?

    Comment by lyle — July 27, 2005 @ 11:58 am

  18. Lyle, if people in the third world don’t want university education, then we could offer PEF funds to them for university education and they would simply turn them down. No problem.

    The concern is that people do want university education for economically rational reasons but that the PEF doesn’t help meet these desires. Again, this is speculation based on a few anecdotes–but I can propose a simple experiment. Open the PEF to university education and see if anyone applies. If they do, then they want a university degree. This doesn’t have to be a decision on the part of the central church. Local people can decide for themselves if the program is more open.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — July 27, 2005 @ 12:09 pm

  19. Also, for what it’s worth, yes, the EU governments are buying into and replicating the class system. World capitalism doesn’t stop at the Atlantic.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — July 27, 2005 @ 12:10 pm

  20. …if people in the third world don’t want university education, then we could offer PEF funds to them for university education and they would simply turn them down.

    It sounds like an alternative late 20th Century. Struggling nations were offered development loans but only accepted what they could sensibly use to improve themselves. Last month, a big world-wide concert was held to celebrate how the struggling nations had wisely avoided piling a mountain of crippling debt upon themselves.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 27, 2005 @ 2:15 pm

  21. I remember well the initial announcement of the PEF (one of the few talks that I specifically remember) and remember how I thought it was interesting that it was focused on trade educations.

    I always thought of it as a microcredit program.

    Comment by Bryce I — July 27, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

  22. I recently heard some reports on the large amounts of Russian Jews emigrating to Israel having difficulty getting jobs because they are TOO well educated. They all have Phds and want to be astro-physicists but how many of those do you need in a country? Most of the countries where PEF dolars are going to are still industrializing and are trying to build that infrastructure before they can worry about jobs where higher education is needed.

    Comment by Bret — July 27, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  23. One thing no one seems to have addressed so far is the qualifications for a college education. The PEF seems to work well at the trade school level. Very little if any entry level qualification. Applicant wants loan, has a trade school to go to, can graduate and pay the loan back.

    If the PEF were applied to college education how many are qualified to enter college? Who would do the screening to determine whether the degree is benefical and the loan could be repaid after the degree is received. And who determines where the applicant could go to school. I’m sure if they could, most would want to come to America and be educated.

    And is a Bachlor’s degree really that valuable? Becoming a Dr. or lawyer requires much more. Where does this stop?

    Comment by don — July 28, 2005 @ 11:34 pm

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