SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers aiming to fill a revenue gap left by an unprecedented exodus of students on Mormon missions will review a measure Monday that would allow public colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition to high-performing students from other states.
Enrollment is down this spring at nearly all of Utah's colleges and universities, and they are expecting bigger dips in the fall. Higher education officials are projecting losses in the millions over the next 2 1/2 years due to the lost tuition.
A House committee is set to discuss the bill Monday afternoon. The Utah Senate moved the bill forward earlier this month in a unanimous vote. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, would allow school presidents to waive the out-of-state portion of tuition for "meritorious" students.
Mission applications have doubled since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in October it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men.
Enrollment is down at eight colleges and universities in Utah this spring semester as new, younger missionaries prepare for missions at the same time as older missionaries who were already planning to go.
Enrollment is down 1-7 percent at eight Utah universities and colleges compared to the same time last year, show figures from the Utah System of Higher Education and the LDS-owned and operated BYU. The only school to report an increase is the University of Utah, where enrollment is up by less than 1 percent.
Spring enrollment is down about 4 percent at the LDS-owned Brigham Young University. Utah Valley University in Orem and Utah State University, which has its main campus in Logan, report the biggest decreases in spring enrollment at 7 percent.
Colleges and universities are expecting even larger enrollment decreases in the fall semester. By that time, more prospective missionaries will have completed an application process that typically takes six months.
Over the next 2 1/2 years, Utah State projects losses of as much as $9.5 million; Weber State estimates $18 million; and Utah Valley University anticipates losing between $14 million to $19 million.
Urquhart said the bill would not only help fill a hole left by outgoing Mormon missionaries, it would help bring the "best and brightest" from other states and strengthen the state's education system.
The bill, as currently written, would allow university presidents to continue to give in-state tuition to non-residents students as long as they are enrolled in the school.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said during a Senate hearing earlier this month that he had conflicted feelings on the bill, giving it his "unenthusiastic support." He said he understands the rationale behind the bill, but said a revenue decline would also be an ideal time to cut the fat at state colleges and universities.
"This is the very opportunity we need to lean up," Jenkins said. "But on the other hand as a businessman, I understand the idea behind being creative and filling the gap."
The concern about the lost revenue is mainly for the short term. The same double dose of outgoing missionaries are likely to return to colleges and universities in about two years, bringing a surge in enrollment and revenue.
Men serve two years on Mormon missions; women go for 18 months.