In his opening remarks of the October session of the 2012 LDS General Conference, Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced the age at which its members could serve as missionaries was lowered from 19 to 18 for men, and from 21 to 19 for women.
As thousands of young LDS members began preparing for their missions in light of the announcement, Utah Valley University experienced an immediate 8 percent drop in enrollment, according to the UVU Enrollment Management Office.
“We knew immediately it would affect us,” said Michelle Taylor, vice president of enrollment management. “What we didn’t know was how fast it would affect us. We had students that withdrew the Monday after conference. We had students who didn’t come back for the spring.”
To help offset deep cuts to revenue due to the enrollment decline, the state is considering Senate Bill 51. Passed in both the Senate and the House of the Utah State Legislature on Feb. 28, S.B. 51 would allow university presidents to waive higher tuition fees for out-of-state students with above average academic performance.
The bill was proposed by Utah Sen. Stephen Urquhart in an effort to close the financial chasm created by the exodus of thousands of missionary-aged students.
For UVU, that gap is about $10 million. Though it is uncertain just how administration will go about recruiting out-of-state students or how effective the tuition waiver will be in making up the deficit. Taylor believes that the incentives will help a great deal.
“We will be able to reach out to out-of-state students in a way that we haven’t before to come to Utah and have in-state tuition,” Taylor said.
However, some are not so supportive of the bill. Senators Johnny Anderson and Jim Bird voted against the bill, the only two in the state to do so.
“I didn’t see any sunset provision in the bill,” said Anderson, who represents the 34th District in the Utah House. “I can certainly understand offering the waivers for a couple of years to help colleges keep their enrollment up while we adjust for the new missionary age, but the adjustment should only be needed for a couple of years, not forever.”
Many citizens opposed to the S.B. 51 say the resulting financial burden would fall to the taxpayers who would, with college students, have to foot the bill for the tuition waivers.
UVU would have to attract five out-of-state waiver students for every one the school had before the missionary announcement, and the length of time that would take is unclear. What is clear is what the loss of $10 million in revenue could mean for the school: potential losses in jobs and resources.
“If we do nothing, it could mean cuts,” Taylor said. “Which is why we need to make up the difference. We need to get out there and recruit new students.”
Cameron Martin, vice president for University Relations, thinks the bill will only lead to excitement on campus, and the university’s recent addition to the WAC will be a big draw to out-of-state students to help combat “the missionary phenomenon.”
“It’s a great place to be right now,” Martin said. “And this legislation puts more accountability and decision making power into the hands of the school’s president to find that perfect balance of students in the classroom … to make for a more engaging learning experience.”
Governor Gary Herbert is expected to sign S.B. 51 shortly.