The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints or Mormons (LDS) has dedicated its new $250,000 College Park Institute of Religion at 7901 Mowatt La., College Park.

It is the first such institute on the East Coast and church officials hope it will encourage college-age Mormons to get their degrees in the Washington area, rather than in Utah, the traditional Mormon sheepskin mecca.

The institute itself is not college, but will offer the religion courses Mormons usually take as undergraduates. Education is heavily stressed by the church, which relies on members to perform the functions of clergy.

"This way they might have a curriculum more suited to their career plans," said spokeswoman Jefflyn Priest.

The center's promimity to the University of Maryland also will be useful to the church's winning of converts. Its "missionary" work is done by 19-year-old males who either defer their college work for the two-year stint or take a sabbatical.

There are now 100 students enrolled in the 600-student capacity institute, 18 of whom are not members of the church.

The building also will be used as the local church or ward, the first in the College Park area.