The decision between college and a mission is making it difficult for universities to retain students and revenue.
Utah lawmakers recently submitted a bill making it possible for school presidents to offer in-state tuition to high-performing students not from Utah to fill a revenue gap caused by the high number of college-aged students serving missions.
After LDS President Thomas S. Monson’s announcement in October about the age change for missionaries, enrollment is down at nearly all of Utah’s colleges and universities. The enrollment numbers are expected to drop even lower in the fall.
According to the Daily Herald, higher education officials are predicting millions of dollars of loss in the next two to three years with fewer people paying tuition. Utah State anticipates a loss of as much as $9.5 million, Weber State predicts losing close to $18 million, and UVU expects losses between $14 million and $19 million.
Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, the chief sponsor of SB51, feels it will not only help revenue losses but will bring the nation’s outstanding scholars to Utah schools, resulting in a stronger local education system.
“Let’s go out and compete for the best and brightest. They will stay, they will create jobs, they will help our economy,” Urquhart said.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is less enthusiastic about the new policy and thinks it is a large opportunity lost for Utah schools to cut the fat.
“This is an opportunity to shrink our expenses overall and become more efficient. It would be hard, but it makes you stronger in years to come. We need to look more into the possibility of shrinking,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he does not see any apparent dangers with putting the bill into action, but he feels that taking the opportunity to make needed changes would be the better choice. Jenkins recently made similar cuts within his own business and said it was difficult to do but beneficial in the end.
“It’s good to have to lay people off and clean things up. They are passing by that opportunity. Nobody likes to do these things, it is painful. If they were businessmen, they would be doing it,” he said.
Morgan McKenna, a broadcast journalism major who attends the University of Utah, has not seen a change in enrollment in her classes yet but feels this new idea will bring more diversity to the university.
“Because University of Utah is such a commuter school at this point, it is sometimes hard for out-of-state students like me,” McKenna said. “I think this bill will urge great potential students that would ultimately result in more of a culturally diverse and well-rounded student body,”
McKenna said she thinks it might cost the school a lot financially, but in the end she feels as though the money would be well spent to bring the best and the brightest applicants. She disagrees with Jenkins in cutting resources because she thinks that would be detrimental to the university.
“The reason that I love my school is because of all of the resources. That is something that makes us so unique, and I would hate to see them taken away,” McKenna said.
Alexis Bananto, a behavioral science and health major from the University of Utah, thinks giving in-state tuition to out-of-state students to attend the U of U could be beneficial but, in some ways, also a downfall.
“Without a doubt, the enrollment rate would go up, but being an out-of-state student and seeing the difference in tuition prices between the two makes me think that the U would be losing a lot of money. I think it would depend on the ratio of students that will be enrolling that are out of state to see if it breaks even,” Bananto said.
Bananto agrees with Sen. Jenkins that there may be a better way of fixing the revenue problem. She thinks the House committee would first have to determine if tuition is its biggest income.
“If this is implemented, Utah schools might have a higher enrollment rate, but it could have an affect on the overall education one can obtain because of the possible increase of students,” Bananto said.
Governor Herbert was contacted, and his spokesperson said he has not made a statement yet.
The bill, SB51, was passed by the Senate and the House on March 1, 2013.