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

<strong>LOGAN—</strong> 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.

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