Since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons have emphasized the importance of education. An 1832-33 revelation given by Joseph Smith stated that church members were to learn not just religious doctrines, but "Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms." In 1876, the LDS Church founded an Academy to accomplish that goal.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Mormon leaders became concerned when the youth in their church began attending missionary schools sponsored by other Christian denominations. They wanted their youth to obtain quality educations, but to do so from faithful LDS teachers. On October 16, 1875, Brigham Young moved forward with his educational goals for the Church by purchasing the Timpanogos branch of the University of Deseret in order to found Brigham Young Academy. Young declared that this school would teach secular and religious knowledge.

January 3, 1876 marks the first day of classes at Brigham Young Academy, with a meager 29 students registered. Karl G. Maeser served as the first permanent principal of BYA from 1876-1892. He used his talent in education and faith in God to transform the school. When he arrived at BYA, he remarked, “There were no records, not much system, and certainly no regularity." He found the "premises inadequate, the facilities limited, students few in number and poorly prepared, and financial conditions exceedingly discouraging." Fortunately, Maeser was ready for the challenge. He trained teachers, taught classes, and enforced a strict list of rules for behavior. Under his leadership, BYA flourished scholastically.

In January of 1892, Benjamin Cluff was made BYA’s new principal. BYA’s financial situation was at an all-time low, but Cluff worked diligently through continual fundraisers to keep the school afloat. However, despite his best efforts, Cluff knew that the only way to truly save the school was to have the Academy incorporated by the Church. Despite the Church being in its own precarious financial situation, it had invested too much into BYA to see it disappear, and they agreed to take on financial responsibility for the school. Because of Principal Cluff, BYA was saved. In 1903 BYA was changed to Brigham Young University, and to this day pursues the stated goal of providing education that is spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging, character building, and that leads to lifelong learning and service.