Utah boasts five national parks, 19 LDS temples and is ranked #3 in the U.S. for overall quality of life by U.S. News. Utah is home to five nationally ranked universities, all of which are some of the most affordable schools in the nation. Every county in the state includes a national forest. There are 14 ski resorts, with Park City being the second largest resort in the U.S.
Despite its impressive landscape and demographics, however, there is an ongoing debate among BYU students on whether to stay in Utah post-graduation. Thirty-five percent of BYU students are originally from Utah, but the rest of the student body represents all other 49 states and 109 different countries, according to BYU’s website.
Liz Allen, a sophomore from Magna, Utah, said she plans to settle down in Utah, although not right away.
“After graduation I want to travel a lot and live all over,” Allen said. “But I feel like I’ll settle down and live in Utah eventually, just because all my family is here.”
Alexa DeMarco, a student from Washington, says she plans to stay in Utah after she graduates even though she didn’t grow up here.
“I like the culture here a lot,” DeMarco said. “I think it’s impacted by Mormon culture, but I just like the culture in general.”
Megan Adamson is a public relations student who grew up in San Diego. She said she and her husband plan to go where the best job opportunities are, but they hope to stay in Utah. She said they will both have internships in Utah, which will hopefully lead to full-time jobs in the state.
“We love living in Utah. We love the mountains and being able to go hunting and camping,” she said. “My in-laws and some of my family live here, so it would be nice to stay close to them.”
Kate Jarvis, an elementary education student, has lived in Provo her whole life. She said she is ready for something different.
“I want to go to grad school, and all the schools I’ve looked into are out of the state,” she said.
Current BYU students aren’t the only ones who have an opinion in this debate. Several alumni who have stuck around in the Beehive State have spoken up on whether they plan to stay for the long haul.
Leah O’Neill grew up in Sandy, Utah, graduated from BYU, and is staying in Utah until her husband graduates with a doctorate. She said that once he finishes, they will “flee” for the East Coast. She said they are strong members of the LDS Church, but there are oddities of Mormon culture in Utah that they disagree with. She thinks she and her family would be more useful to God elsewhere.
“There’s so much confusion between what’s doctrine, what’s principle and what’s just tradition in Utah,” O’Neill said. “Growing up here, it took me a long time to realize that my friends went to church because it was their lifestyle, not because they understood and were committed to God.”
She said a lot of people she graduated with have stayed in Utah because they have family they want to stay close to.
Alyssa Challis disagrees with O’Neill. She said that she and her husband both grew up in Utah, and they love the lifestyle they’re able to live here. They also love having family close by. She has graduated from BYU and is waiting for her husband to graduate this year.
“We love that we can ski and snowboard in awesome snow in the winter and go boating in the summer not too far away,” she said. “Utah is a good balance for us. If we have the opportunity to stay, we’ll stay.”
Many couples in Utah find themselves in the position where one spouse graduates before the other. Because of this, plans for the future are often modified, and couples find themselves living here longer than they anticipated. Emily Webster is in this situation.
Webster is from Colorado, and she said her job and her spouse are her only reasons for sticking around. She said the mountains are beautiful, but she can find them elsewhere. She also said she is not used to living in an area with such a high population of Mormons.
“I just have no reason to stay — no family, no real ties other than BYU,” Webster said. “I also don’t like the school systems very much, and I think they need a lot of work.”
She said she isn’t necessarily opposed to staying, but she doesn’t feel she has any compelling reasons.
Abby Adams has found herself in a similar situation to Webster, but she has different feelings toward it. She said that when she was looking for jobs, her husband was still in school, so she purposely looked for opportunities in the area. Now that he is getting close to graduation, he is also looking for a job in the area so they can stay near her job.
“We will be moving for grad school,” Adams said. “It will all depend on jobs, school and such, but it would be nice to get back here to have the extended family support.”
Ashley Roth and her husband are both done with school and are living in Provo. They are currently searching for jobs. She said that if they find a great opportunity here, they would stay, but they are hoping to find something out of the state.
“We’d like to be in a more-preferred climate — rainy and green — to be closer to family and to be somewhere where there are less members,” Roth said. “We’d potentially like to share our beliefs more — to be in the ‘mission field.’ As well as so our kids could grow up around a greater variety of people and lifestyles.”
Whether to be close to family, find job opportunities, go to grad school or follow religious preferences, graduates will use the same reasons to leave as they will to stay.