• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

New Utah law seeks to counter loss of college students to missions

March 11th, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

LOGAN—Utah’s new Higher Education Tuition Waiver law, adopted last week, is designed to help keep Utah college enrollment numbers up, countering the recent policy change by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which lowered the minimum missionary age and drew students away from Utah colleges and universities.

Last Fall, the LDS church lowered its age requirement for missionaries, to 18 for men and 19 for women; previously, men had to be 19 and women 21 to serve LDS missions. The abrupt age change was felt almost immediately on Utah college and university campuses, as freshmen announced they would drop out to apply for missions, and potential incoming 2013 freshmen deferred admission.

SB51, sponsored by state Sen. Stephen Urquhart of St. George, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, includes two sections: the first removes a cap on nonresident tuition waivers; the second extends the “legacy” tuition waiver, which allowed non-resident tuition waivers to students with alumni parents, to include grandparents.

“The emphasis of the bill is to enhance flexibility of the university president to offer tuition waivers,” said Neil Abercrombie, USU’s Director of Government Relations. “The idea is that the president will be able to shape the class better with above-average, out-of-state students.”

Shortly after the new LDS missionary age policy was announced in October, USU President Stan Albrecht created an enrollment task force to determine its effect on USU enrollment as 18- and 19-year-olds opted for LDS missions instead of college. The Higher Education Tuition Waiver bill was one of the task force’s recommendations.

James Morales, USU vice president for student services and chair of the enrollment task force, estimated that USU would lose about 1,900 students within the next two years because of the new missionary age. This translates into about a $19 million loss in tuition, housing, dining, parking, the bookstore and other USU services, Morales said, plus a ripple effect throughout the local economy.

The remedy is not a tuition increase, he said, but a focus on attracting more out-of-state students.

“We’d really like to reassure the students that we won’t be raising tuition or fees,” he said. “The students didn’t create this problem, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

USU’s enrollment task force has focused efforts on recruiting out-of-state students, especially transfer students who will graduate within two to three years, before many of the younger missionaries return home to enroll in college.

“We’ve been focusing on recruiting in California right now,” said Corey Mikkelsen, USU’s associate director of recruitment. “California’s schools have been struggling and we are very appealing for them. We’ve had good success with our recruitment efforts there.”

Mikkelsen said USU has already recruited about 330 California transfer students, about 100 more than usual at this point in the year.

“The good news,” Morales said, “is that there are a number of positive aspects to this that we’re going to capitalize on. This isn’t just about mitigating negative effects.”

For one thing, Morales said, focusing on out-of-state students will expand USU’s nationwide presence, and diversify its student body.

“This is also going to be good for the maturity level of our freshmen and sophomores,” when the younger missionaries return home, Morales said. “Students will come back older, more mature and focused and ready to complete their degrees, and we’ll let the LDS church take care of the immaturity.”

Though Morales does not expect to replace the immediate enrollment loss student for student, he said the temporary enrollment dip will give current students an opportunity to enroll in classes that are usually filled beyond capacity and have been difficult to get into.

“Again I’d just like to reassure students that there will be positive effects of this,” Morales said. “Our goal is to not raise fees, but just live a little more frugal. For a two-year period, we can all tighten our belts a little.”


Tags: , , , ,