Education Week: LDS missionary service and higher education pursuits

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Photo courtesy of Chase Driggs.

Religious educator and Education Week guest speaker Jared A. Jepson shared some of his research on how deferring school for an LDS mission aids college students’ performances in school.

For the average person, delaying education has a negative effect on student graduation rates, according to Jepson.

“If you delay even a semester, you are 64 percent less likely to graduate college,” he said.

What the statistic fails to show is the large subpopulation of Latter-day Saint “delayers” that attend college before and after their missions.

A higher number of Latter-day Saints expect and plan to pursue a higher education degree when compared to the national average, according to Jepson.

Returned missionaries are in the top percentage of those who want a higher education. In his qualitative study, Jepson found that returned missionary men and women will receive Bachelor’s degrees at double the rate of the national average.

In order to examine the success rate of returned missionaries in college, Jepson decided to interview six young men in Northern Texas who are all returned missionaries and have graduated college. Jepson picked male returned missionaries for his study because the likelihood of having men leave for a mission college right out of high school is higher than women.

Jepson looked at the men’s experiences before, during and after their missions along with their college transcripts to examine how each of these factors affected each individual in the study.

None of the men in the study had more than an eight-year lapse between his high school education and his college degree, but all experienced a three-year delay before entering college.

According to the studies that Jepson mentioned in his speech, a three-year delay for college is considered the worst time period for graduation and is considered a “death zone.” Some of the six men transferred schools during their education period, which Jepson cited as another factor of non-success.

 

When each participant described his mission to Jepson, Jepson noted that each of the young men gained skills that were used in their college education.

DeRon said that his “yearning for learning” grew drastically during his mission, which affected how he was able to study in college. Another participant, Cory, said his ability to grow and act mature was shaped during his mission.

With these skills gained after their missions, each participant was able to work and attend school at the same time.

“Usually, those who work and go part-time to school are not as adept to finish or graduate, Jepson said. “(But) those that go full-time school and work seem to do better in school.”

Even though these returned missionaries were able to adapt and use their skills in college, Jepson said some still encountered obstacles in college.

“I would not give up on obstacles in college because I had persistence to overcome them in a foreign country on a mission,” Jepson said when quoting his participant Dave.

Jepson also explained how “gap years” in college, which are popular in England and Australia, are becoming prominent in the United States. A gap year often spent either vacationing, working, completing service projects or participating in a combination of these three elements. Out of the three, Jepson said service gap years are the most successful for college students’ future educational pursuits.

Even though service projects such as Peace Corps are great, Jepson explained that most service projects are short-term. Because missions are longer in length, they help shape a student’s success by developing critical thinking, goal setting, and persistence that will aid higher education, according to Jepson.

“As Latter-day Saints, education is an eternal investment and I pray for your success as you continue to go forth,” Jepson said.

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