Fewer students are enrolled this fall at Utah colleges and universities, but the decrease is less than officials expected when the Mormon church announced last year it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries.
A waiver created earlier this year by the Utah Legislature allowing public universities to offer in-state tuition to high-performing students from other states has helped some schools withstand the exodus of Mormon missionaries.
At Utah State University in Logan, about 300 students coming this fall were given the new waiver, said James Morales, vice president for student services. Snagging those students helped make up for the loss of outgoing missionaries and keep enrollment down just 3.5 percent from last year, about half of what officials expected, he said.
"We felt the best thing of us to do was to go out of state and recruit students who we were not already recruiting," Morales said. "We weren't going to stand around flat-footed."
In October, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men.
The change in the minimum age, the first since 1960, led to an historic surge of missionaries with younger missionaries joining older ones already planning to go. The 75,000 missionaries proselytizing around the world today are more than at any time in church history. Prior to the change, there were about 58,000 missionaries, church figures show.
With about two-thirds of Utah residents being LDS church members, college leaders feared short-term revenue gaps that could lead to program or staffing cuts. That triggered the Utah Legislature to pass the waivers.
Official enrollment figures won't be compiled for several weeks, but the early returns appear to confirm that universities were able to avoid massive revenue cuts by planning ahead.
At Weber State University in Ogden, officials rolled the new state waivers into an existing program that gives in-state tuition to students who commit to living in the campus residency halls for at least one year, said spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess. The new waivers allowed them to bring in 20-30 additional students from other states, she said.
Weber State is projecting a 5-6 percent drop in enrollment -- slightly less than the 7 percent dip they forecast. Hess said they don't anticipate having to make any major cuts because they were able to adjust their budget accordingly.
Not all schools used the waiver, though.
It wouldn't have made a difference at The Mormon-church owned Brigham Young University in Provo, where the tuition scale is based on whether students are members of the LDS church, said spokesman Todd Hollingshead. BYU is expecting about 3,000 fewer students, or a 10 percent drop. Non-Mormon students can attend BYU, but they estimate about 98 percent of the students are LDS.
The University of Utah in Salt Lake City opted not to use the waivers until the fall of 2014, said Mary Parker, the university's associate vice president for enrollment management. She said they had already awarded most of their scholarships when the law passed in the spring, and also wanted more time to assess the situation. Enrollment is expected to be down about 3-4 percent this fall.