In April, 2001, then President, Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in the church’s 171st annual (world) General Conference that the church was going to establish a Perpetual Education Fund for young adult members whose access to education and job training was limited by cost or other circumstances. The program was to be modeled after Brigham Young’s Perpetual Emigration Fund of the late nineteenth century, which helped bring 26,000 Latter-day Saint converts (mostly from Europe) to Utah Territory (Utah was not made a state until 1896) (Deseret News).
President Hinckley was concerned, as he visited members in various parts of the world, that many of them (including returned missionaries) were unable to fill their potential—or even adequately meet the needs of their families—because the cost of education was prohibitive. “We don’t want to give away money and make people weak,” he told the program’s future director (LDS Church News). “‘Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training” (LDS Conference Report).Since LDS ministers are lay clergy (non-paid), even these must have gainful employment outside their church service; and the standard of living in many states where the church operates was not conducive to job training or learning.
The educational loan fund was to be established initially by volunteer donations (which quickly poured in from all over the world), the interest of which is loaned out and then replaced as employed graduates paid back their loans into the fund. Early Mormon converts whose immigration was facilitated by the Perpetual Emigration Fund worked to restore monies into the Fund to assist other converts in their journey. Today, Perpetual Education Fund loan recipients work to replace what they have used so that others may benefit.
In 2001, the year of its creation, the PEF was offered in Mexico, Peru, and Chile. “The potential for failure might have loomed as the PEF’s newly appointed leaders rushed to begin providing loans by autumn of 2001, as President Hinckley had directed. Outside of the prophet [Hinckley]’s inspired outline there existed no business plan, no detailed proposal. The program was organized using the text of President Hinckley’s conference talk as its charter. Hundreds of loan applications were flooding into Church headquarters even as directors were being called and the basic structure of the program was being formed.
“But miracles were already taking place. Within the first year, millions of dollars had been donated to the program. Several individuals whose backgrounds made them uniquely qualified for the work of the PEF were immediately available to serve as volunteer directors. The infrastructure necessary to support the PEF globally had already been laid in the form of Church Educational System’s institute programs and Church Employment Resource Centers [around the world]. Things fell into place quickly, providing the program with what President Hinckley reported in April 2002 to be a ‘solid foundation’” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Education has always been a paramount objective of the Latter-day Saints. After building temples, the church has typically sought to establish schools as its next highest priority. Church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18). LDS scripture also instructs, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). “In part, this means that Mormons recognize a kind of learning that incorporates both intellect and spiritual insight. They also acknowledge that these are not unrelated: spiritual understanding, for instance, is necessary to give rational inquiry its ultimate purpose. Moreover, Latter-day Saints affirm that faith and reason are not fundamentally hostile to each other” (LDS Newsroom).
Brigham Young taught that Mormons embrace truth regardless of the source. “It is our duty and calling, … to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church … to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (Discourses of Brigham Young 1940,248).
In the ten years since its inception, more than 50,000 people in 450 countries have received PEF loans. “As of February 2011, 90 percent of those who have sought work after completing their schooling have found employment. Some 78 percent of those now employed say that their current employment is an improvement over what they had before receiving schooling, a figure expected to improve with time. The average income after schooling for PEF participants is three to four times greater than income prior to schooling, representing a vast improvement in economic status” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
“Today the program is made up of 47 percent men and 53 percent women. Of the men, 80 percent of the participants are returned missionaries and 82 percent of all participants work while going to school. On average, education and skills training takes 2.6 years, and the average total loan for one participant is about $1,800” (LDS Church News).
As more people donate to the fund, it expands to more countries. And the loans impact many more lives than just those who receive education. Rex Allen, PER Director of Training and Communications, explained: “As each participant marries and begins a family, the number of people blessed doubles, triples, and continues to multiply into the hundreds of thousands” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Loan recipients are able to give time and means to other worthy endeavors—including sharing the blessings of education with others.
“‘This program is growing very, very rapidly, and it really is quite a challenge to keep up with it,’ according to Elder John Carmack, PEF Director. Each area in the Church has its own committee to screen PEF applications. More than 98 percent of the applications that reach PEF headquarters in Salt Lake City are able to garner final approval.
“Elder Carmack estimates two-thirds of PEF recipients are current with or have completed the payback of their loans. ‘We would love to have 100 percent payback,’ he said. ‘These are people most of whom never even had a bank account. They have never been involved in a business transaction or signing a promissory note. But they’re paying back better and better all the time. For example, those who just joined the program in the last 12 months, their paying-back percentage is something like 88 percent. These people are showing their integrity, and we keep working to move that up’” (LDS Church News).
Still in its infancy, the PEF has much territory to cover (the PEF currently operates in 45 of the 175 countries and territories in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence). It is difficult to estimate how many of the more than 14 million Latter-day Saints have need of education assistance.
The LDS Church Welfare program, which focuses on people’s temporal needs and helping them be self-reliant, began as a resource for church members only (today, church membership is not a requirement). Additionally, Latter-Day Saint Charities regularly delivers food, clothing, medical and other disaster relief, as needed, around the globe. As the PEF matures, the day may come when anyone who desires to improve their situation may apply for such a loan.
Deseret News. Perpetual Education Fund a Success, but with Challenges.www.deseretnews.com/article/705380579/Perpetual-Education-Fund-a-success-but-with-challenges.html?pg=2(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)
Askar, Jamshid. 2009. Perpetual Education Fund is Making a Difference. LDS Church News, Sept. 11. www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57887/Perpetual-Education-Fund-is-making-a-difference.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)
LDS Conference Report, April, 2001. The Perpetual Education Fund.http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-183-21,00.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perpetual Education Fund Fulfills Prophetic Promises. lds.org/church/news/perpetual-education-fund-fulfills-prophetic-promises?lang=eng(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)
Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
LDS Newsroom. Mormons and Education: An Overview. newsroom.lds.org/article/mormons-and-education-an-overview (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)
Widtsoe, John A. Discourses of Brigham Young. Deseret Book, 1941.LDS Church News. Celebrating Ten Years of the Perpetual Education Fund.
PEF.LDS.ORG.PEF Success Stories. pef.lds.org/pef/southafrica_shirley?locale=eng(accessedNov. 22, 2011)
See also: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASteMXNHN-8
Originally posted by Karl Beckstrand 2/7/2012 11:02 PM