When the final figures for Pathway's fall 2012 enrollment came across the desk of BYU-Idaho president Kim B. Clark, he was astonished.

The numbers were much higher than he had expected. But as impressive as the numbers may have been, it wasn't the sheer quantity of Pathway students that was important. It was the story those statistics told. Pathway had identified - and was meeting - a critical need within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

"We've hit a vein," President Clark recalls thinking at the time. Now, five years after the program's inception, Pathway continues to do just that. 

The program's philosophical underpinnings are as old as the Church itself, explains Henry J. Eyring, whose stewardship as BYU-Idaho's advancement vice president includes Pathway. He notes the early efforts by Church founder Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, to make education in both spiritual and temporal matters more readily available to the Latter-day Saints. 

That same desire guided the foundation of BYU-Idaho's pioneer forebear, Bannock Stake Academy, in 1888. Later, in the concluding decades of the institution's Ricks College era, former presidents Henry B. Eyring and David A. Bednar would use their inaugural addresses to outline bold visions of education being delivered to Church members well beyond the confines of the Rexburg campus. After the transition to BYU-Idaho, that vision was articulated yet again by President Clark in his own inaugural response in 2005.

"The roots of Pathway are the roots of this institution, and frankly, of the restored gospel in this dispensation," Henry J. Eyring says. 

Drawing on an institutional legacy of frugality and wise use of resources, BYU-Idaho launched the Pathway program in 2009 by utilizing the existing infrastructure of meetinghouses and the Church Educational System's seminary and institute program. Face-to-face interaction at gatherings in those Church-owned facilities is blended with BYU-Idaho's online course offerings. That approach, coupled with the volunteer efforts of local service missionaries who administer each site, allows the program to be delivered at a lower cost in a wide range of locations. 

"This is about the humblest, the least well-off Church members getting the kind of education they need to provide for themselves and their families and to lead in the Church--and to do it in a way that is affordable for them," Eyring says.  

As Pathway has evolved over its first five years, experience has shown that the students who participate come with any number of goals in mind. Some are seeking to better their circumstances through additional education while others are simply looking for personal enrichment. Some use the program as a springboard for matriculation into a bachelor's degree program, either at BYU-Idaho or another university. But no matter what brings a student to Pathway, he or she finds a unique educational opportunity offered in an inclusive and nurturing environment. 

"Pathway is a conduit to education for members of the Church from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels," says J.D. Griffith, managing director of Pathway. "We try to open the doors of Pathway to as many students as we can."

Once they've walked through those doors, students are guided through an experience designed to help them meet three key objectives: get the gospel deep into their hearts, help them become lifelong learners, and prepare to lead and support a family.  

"We want to train up the mothers and fathers, the priesthood and Relief Society leaders of the Church," Eyring says. "The Spirit is crucial. Ministering is crucial. Leadership is crucial."

That notion of ministering soon emerged as a defining aspect of Pathway, Griffith adds. The program's administrators have found that although they oversee a site's initial implementation and provide it with ongoing support, Pathway succeeds best when it is priesthood led and driven at the local level. 

"The real blessings of Pathway occur when priesthood leaders see Pathway as part of their ministry - when priesthood leaders see that Pathway changes the heart and mind of one of their flock. Real growth happens when members of the Church gather together and the Spirit testifies of both spiritual and temporal truths. That is what happens with Pathway," Griffith says. 

That growth and edification is the ultimate purpose of Pathway. There is clearly much of BYU-Idaho in Pathway - its innovative approach to delivering educational opportunity through online and in-person settings, its emphasis on affordability and accessibility. In the end, though, the program's mission to bless individuals and families in a gospel-centered environment transcends its BYU-Idaho roots. 

"Pathway is for the kingdom," President Clark says emphatically. "It's not for the university."  

Just as BYU-Idaho is not the focus of Pathway, neither is the program's continuing expansion or increasing enrollment. Milestones like this year's fifth anniversary can easily be measured by such statistics, but Pathway's true worth and impact on the Church are measured by its ability to bless lives, and, in some cases, even save souls.  

That makes the message to each potential Pathway student not unlike the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ itself. And it's a message President Clark can easily imagine sharing with someone considering whether to participate in Pathway.  

"You're a child of God," he says. "You have a great future and Pathway can help you find your path. God has a plan for you. He knows exactly where you are. He loves you. He has prepared a way for you. That path will include education, a family, and service in His kingdom. He has much work for you to do. You have a great future."

For more information about Pathway, visit pathway.lds.org