Mormon missionaries credited for 2 percent spike in college enrollment

Two missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak with people on the street, Germany, September 2015 | Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Intellectual Reserve Inc., St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH – It’s been three years this month since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered its minimum age for young men and women desiring to embark on full-time missionary service – a move that has been linked to stunted college and university enrollment numbers in Utah ever since. However, the Utah System of Higher Education announced Wednesday that public colleges and universities statewide have logged a 2 percent overall increase in enrollment this fall. That boost is being attributed, in part, to the new crop of young missionaries returning home from church service.

“After two consecutive years of flat enrollment growth, primarily driven by the missionary age change announced in fall 2012 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, returning missionaries are finding their way back to campus,” a USHE press release said.

Young women within the LDS church typically serve 18-month missions, while young men are called to complete two years of service. The church’s missionary effort is based on the New Testament pattern of sending missionaries out in pairs to teach the Gospel in the name of Jesus Christ, according to information from the church. The church sends its missionaries to various points throughout the world.

In October 2012, the LDS church dropped its minimum missionary age requirements for both men and women. Young LDS women, formerly restricted from signing up for full-time service until age 21, were suddenly permitted to submit their mission applications at 19. The mission age for young men dropped from 19 to 18, allowing young male church members to transition almost directly from high school to the mission field.

The answering response from young church members, opting to serve missions fresh out of high school rather than enroll in college right away, has been pointed at for slacking higher education enrollment numbers that began to manifest shortly after.

This year, though, overall, Utah college enrollment as of the third week of fall semester shows a statewide increase of 3,453 students, or 2.06 percent, over 2014, according to statistics from the USHE. Full-time equivalent student enrollment has increased a bit more, rising 2.79 percent. This indicates more students are now attending college full-time, the press release said.

In Southern Utah, Cedar City-based Southern Utah University has outstripped the statewide enrollment increase with a 16 percent enrollment spike of its own. The total head count at this point in SUU’s fall semester, according to a recent SUU press release, is 8,881 – an increase of 1,125 students over last year’s numbers.

Dixie State University in St. George hasn’t fared as well, but it has “held steady” in comparison with last fall’s enrollment statistics, according to a DSU press release. Dixie’s full-time equivalent student body is down 24 students, or 0.37 percent, from last year, and overall head count is down 67 students, or 0.78 percent. But Dixie cites a reason for the decline.

Dixie State’s protocol has changed this fall, according to the press release. Students coming into this year’s fall semester were required to pay tuition before the start of classes, rather than having the bill come due the third week of the semester, as in years past. The former policy meant Dixie State was holding seats for students who had enrolled but ended up not attending, the press release said, adding that the new policy has enabled more students to register for the classes they need.

The purge isn’t a penalty, but a benefit to all students,” said Frank Lojko, vice president of student affairs for Dixie State, as quoted in the press release. “We’re trying to provide space for students in classes and offer better advisement. We know who our students are and we’re trying to get them in classes.”

Dixie’s numbers have climbed in other areas, though, according to the press release: Enrollment of minority students is up 18.8 percent this fall; and the number of students participating in concurrent enrollment – attending high school and college classes simultaneously – has increased by 12.7 percent.

As for the LDS church’s statistics, the number of missionaries serving worldwide is currently more than 85,000, according to current numbers listed on the church’s website.

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