Missionaries returning due to pandemic causing increased spring enrollment

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Campus is empty after the last half of winter semester was moved to remote teaching. The university has announced that both spring and summer term classes will also be taught remotely. (Hannah Miner)

BYU’s Spring Term enrollment has increased as missionaries return home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began sending missionaries from the United States and Canada home from their international assignments during the last weeks of March and the beginning of April. Some of these missionaries have decided to enroll in Spring Term classes during the interim period before they are allowed to return to full missionary service.

Last year’s Spring Term had 10,438 enrolled students, and as of Wednesday, April 15, there were 12,101 students enrolled in at least one credit for Spring Term. The numbers for this Spring Term’s enrollment are subject to change as students adjust their plans over the next couple of weeks. University Communications didn’t have any specific data to indicate that the increase is due to missionaries returning home because of the pandemic but attributed some of this increase to these returning missionaries.

Blair Bateman, the interim Spanish and Portuguese Department chair, said the department has seen an increase in enrollments for Spanish and Portuguese classes that are frequently taken by return missionaries. SPAN 321, third-year Spanish grammar, had 162 students enrolled with 53 on the waitlist as of April 17 at 10 a.m.

“Last year, we had a total of 93 who took the class in spring, so that’s a 50-100% increase,” he said, “if you count the waitlist ones or not.”

The equivalent Portuguese class has also seen a similar increase. Last spring there were 16 students in PORT 321, and this year there are 44 enrolled with 10 on the waitlist. Bateman said they have opened new sections of both classes to allow more students to take the courses.

“The only explanation that I can think of is that these are people who are coming home slightly early from their missions,” Bateman said.

Alex Baugh, the Church History and Doctrine Department chair, agreed with Bateman. He said the enrollment in their spring classes is up by around 300 students, and he attributed at least some of that number to the newly returned missionaries. Dana Pike, the Ancient Scripture Department chair, said his department has seen over double the number of students enrolling this spring compared to last year.

“The two reasons I have heard for this increase are the number of missionaries who came home early from their mission assignments and the fact that students can live at home and still take classes, which means it is less expensive for them, whether they are recently returned missionaries or not,” Pike said.

Braden Terry served almost 10 months in the Tokyo North mission before he returned home after the coronavirus outbreak. Terry is currently enrolled in a religion class and ECON 110 for this Spring Term.

“We were told that we’re coming home and we have no idea when or if we’ll go back out,” Terry said. “I thought, ‘OK, well, I don’t really have much to do because of all this COVID drama, so I guess I’ll take advantage of the online BYU classes and try to get ahead in my schooling.'”

Missionaries enrolled at BYU received this email from Enrollment Services with instructions about how to proceed with their missionary deferments. (Bennett Graff)

Bennett Graff was in a similar situation when he returned home from the Peru Trujillo South Mission. He is taking American Heritage through BYU Independent Study, and he is enrolled in WRTG 150 and a few other classes for Spring Term.

According to Graff, the process of changing his mission deferment and enrolling in Spring Term was relatively painless. He had to cancel his deferment for the time being in order to enroll.

Both Graff and Terry received an email from BYU admissions at the end of March that outlined the process of re-enrolling at BYU.

“That was one of the moments where I was like alright well they’re assuming we’re going to be in this for the long haul,” Graff said about the email. The email asked missionaries to update their mission deferment and get an ecclesiastical endorsement if they needed one.

Terry and Graff plan to return to missionary service as soon as possible, which potentially complicates their plans to finish Spring Term.

Graff said if he is asked to return to being a missionary before Spring Term is over, he will figure it out when it happens. “That’s the worst case scenario, but at least I’ve spent basically all semester studying. It won’t be too bad,” he said.

Terry plans on being able to work out a return date that fits with his school schedule if he is able to return to the mission before the end of the term. “As soon as the Church wants me to go back out, I will go back out, but with the caveat being, I’m going to be enrolled in spring semester, so I can’t leave until after spring semester.”

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