Twenty-five percent of students may have felt a seismic shift to their life plans Saturday, Oct. 6 upon hearing the age change decision made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to lower the eligible age for missionary service.
Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS Church, announced Saturday morning in its 182nd Semiannual General Conference that, “All worthy and able young men . . . will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. Worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”
Michelle Taylor, Associate Vice President of Student Services and Dean of Enrollment Management, said this decision will have a significant impact at UVU, where more than 70 percent of males have served or will serve missions.
“First of all, it’s going to change the way we recruit. We have to really reach out [to people serving a mission] before they leave,” Taylor said. “We want them to apply and accept any scholarships. We’ll be deferring all scholarships for those that choose to do so.”
Taylor said they anticipate smaller freshman classes for the next two years and are moving to ensure that those potential students will be able to return and attend. UVU recently changed how students submit leave-of-absence forms and scholarship deferrals, and Taylor explained how this change will help accommodate those who leave on LDS missions.
“The program is built into the Banner system,” Taylor said. “We’ll be tweaking it so we also have deferred admissions. Students tell us the semester they will be returning . . . it’s all much better.”
While an initially decrease in enrollment is expected, Kimberly Lender focuses on the positive changes that will result.
“I know a lot of guys who look at their first year of college and don’t really take it seriously. This way they can come back and really work at it,” Lender said.
Taylor agrees that the returning young men and women will be a positive boost to the university.
“The returned missionaries have learned good study habits, dedication and are prepared to be students,” Taylor said.
Paul Monson, an instructor at the Orem LDS Institute of Religion, said the Institute also anticipates smaller freshman classes.
“For the next few years, we’ll just be waiting until everything stabilizes,” Monson said. “We may not replace retiring teachers and just have a smaller faculty until those students get back. We’re already seeing an increase in attendance in the mission preparation courses.”
Freshman Chelsey Hicken said she already knew what she wanted to do, so the age change for females has not changed her plans, but understands why many students may choose to leave earlier now.