The first full wave of “age change” missionaries is expected to hit BYU this Fall Semester, once again bringing changes in enrollment and character of the student body.
Ever since the announcement lowering the minimum age change for LDS full-time missionary service in October 2012, undergraduate enrollment in BYU has seen dramatic swings, particularly with regards to female and freshman male enrollment.
BYU University Communications manages publicly available undergraduate enrollment stats at yfacts.byu.edu. According to the web stats and updated information obtained from University Communications, total undergraduate enrollment fell from 30,290 in Fall 2012 to 27,191 in Fall 2013 — a 10.23 percent reduction. The downward trend continued into Winter 2014 with enrollment dipping to 26,392. That is a 2.92 percent reduction between the semesters and a 12.9 percent reduction from Fall 2012.
Fall 2014 shows a slight uptick with the very first few age-change missionaries returning, raising undergraduate enrollment to 26,673. The trend has continued to increase to 27,557 in Winter 2015. Fall 2015 undergraduate enrollment numbers will be officially released after the add/drop deadline in mid-September, but university spokesman Todd Hollingshead says administrators expect enrollment to continue its upward trend.
The number of total freshmen in 2012 dropped from 3,074 to 1,973 in 2013, a reduction of 35.18 percent. This reflects activities of high school grads going straight to missionary service or other activities.
Paul Langi graduated from Bingham High School in 2012 at the age of 17. He joined the Army National Guard and completed Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training and Jump School before serving a mission in Honolulu, Hawaii. He returned in May 2015.
“(The army) prepared me to be the odd man out when you are a missionary; that’s one of the biggest things you experience,” Langi said. “Just getting away from home for the first time helped, so when I left to Hawaii it wasn’t that hard.”
Langi said he feels that a mission and military experience have prepared him well for college, helping him mature and gain planning skills.
“It gets you in the mind set that goals are what are going to get you out to do things,” Langi said. “When you come home, you are already goal-oriented, so if you have a goal to accomplish in the next week you know what to do.”
Langi’s experience reflects the impact that former BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson anticipated when the age change was announced.
“A mission contributes not only to the growth and vitality of the church, but also to the maturation and development of the missionary. Thus, in a couple of years, many of our entering students and those who will be returning will come with more highly developed study skills, increased self-discipline, and increased clarity about their life and academic goals,” Samuelson said in the 2013 University Conference. “Our already impressive student body will become even more so with an earlier mission experience.”
Enrollment by gender showed a particularly sharp decline in all female undergrads and freshmen males over the same years. In Fall 2012, undergrad enrollment was 52 percent male and 48 percent female. This changed to 54 percent male, 46 percent female in Fall 2013. The trend of less females continued into 2014, with enrollment totaling 55 percent male, 45 percent female. There has been a small stabilization in Winter 2015 with 54 percent male, 46 percent female enrollment.
The change seems to have affected male freshman much more heavily than female freshman, since females still have time for a year of college before they leave on their missions at age 19. The freshman enrollment numbers jumped to 63 percent female and 38 percent male in 2013, exactly a year after the announcement.
Certain class levels were affected more than others. The enrollment of juniors and sophomores dipped the most from 2012 to 2013, with junior enrollment dipping by 23.84 percent and sophomore enrollment dipping by 32.4 percent.
The true impact of returning age-change missionary on enrollment and quality of student participation on BYU will only become obvious once the Fall 2015 data is in the books. But faculty are anxious and are preparing for a surge in attendance.
Jennifer Lindsey, University Writing Program assistant, said that the University Writing Program cut 600 seats — 30 sections of 20 seats —from the general education class Writing 150 in 2013 and 2014, due to lower freshman numbers. Despite the cuts, she said sections still rarely reached capacity.
“We won’t know the quality of students until we go through Fall 2015,” Lindsey said. The University Writing Program has added 400 seats to the Writing 150 program but still sees massive wait lists. The American Heritage program is anticipating a 1,000 seat increase for Fall 2015.