Utah colleges scramble to adjust to LDS mission changes

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BYU isn’t the only university in Utah scrambling to assess the impacts of the recent change in the eligibility ages for LDS missionaries.

Utah State University, Southern Utah University and Utah Valley University all told The Universe they are preparing for change.

Utah System of Higher Education spokeswoman Pamela Silberman said Utah universities will definitely see changes in certain aspects of enrollment, housing and applications. “Right now, we’re playing the waiting game,” Silberman said. “But, out of all the colleges, BYU will probably be hit the worst.”

Southern Utah University is concerned about having too much unused housing space but is grateful it downsized earlier this year when the largest housing complex was torn down for remodeling. To house the incoming students, a nearby hotel was rented out and now, with the change in missionary age, SUU expects about 250 current students will not return next semester.

Stephen Allen, assistant vice president for enrollment, said the university most likely will not renew the lease on the hotel. “We feel very fortunate,” Allen said. “This was perfect timing for us in terms of housing.” Allen thinks the┬áchallenge┬ámay now be in understanding what older returning students want for a housing design since dormitories will no longer house only freshman.

Despite a decrease in enrollment, Allen thinks there will be an increase in future retention and completion because of the caliber of returning students. “In the short term, there will be a larger impact,” Allen said. “But looking at it in the long run, we expect it to be a great thing for young men and women who return very focused.”

Circumstances are similar at Utah Valley University. Chris Taylor, associate vice president for university marketing and communications, said many students will come back more focused. “(Missions) tend to sharpen focus and dedication, and that can’t help but bleed into other areas of life,” Taylor said. Eighty percent of students at UVU are LDS, a number that is not expected to change in the long-run.

Taylor said UVU’s main focus is on making things as seamless as possible for students needing to take an extended leave, since predicting specific effects of the age-change announcement is like a “moving target.” He said he is confident UVU has the infrastructure to achieve this goal through its current Leave of Absence program for enrolled students.

“Students who formally defer admission or file for a leave of absence have the benefit of holding their scholarships until they return,” Taylor said. “We are encouraging (future students) to apply and be admitted now, even if they won’t formally commence their studies for several years.” Taylor believes this will make for a more seamless transition when they return.

UVU is also encouraging female students recently graduated from high school to still get a year of college behind them before leaving.

Shortly after LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced young men would be eligible for missionary service at age 18 instead of 19, and young women at 19 instead of 21, BYU released a statement saying it expected changes in areas such as housing and enrollment but would not be sure of specific effects until more data about how students and prospective students is available..

University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said BYU is excited about the announcement and how it will affect the campus. “We are confident we can handle any issues that arise,” Jenkins said. “We have the people and the programs already in place to deal with the situation.”

Jenkins said other universities announced programs for enrollment and scholarship deferments in response to the missionary age change, but since BYU is accustomed to a large number of students leaving and returning from missions, it already has these programs in place for prospective missionaries and students. Block schedules are also already available for missionaries, as well as the Spring and Summer terms that allow students to have access to BYU education all year.

So although BYU has the highest number of students among Utah schools who are members of the LDS Church, it is confident it will be able to continue to provide all of its students with a continued high-level educational experience.

 

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