With the new, lower age requirements for LDS Church missionaries, Utah colleges and universities expect to lose hundreds of students this semester and are bracing to lose millions of dollars in future tuition revenues.
Anticipating tuition revenue losses of up to 10 percent next academic year, some institutions are already imposing hiring freezes and stepping up their efforts to attract students from out of state, according to a Utah Board of Regents report released this week.
"There can certainly be some positive long-term effects from all this, but in the immediate future the financial effects are real and tough," said Greg Stauffer, associate commissioner for planning, finance and facilities at the Board of Regents, the oversight body for higher education in Utah.
"If the average class size was 25, it's not like all 25 go away. They will go down to 20," he said. "You still have full ... facilities cost, you just have less revenue coming in."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced lower age thresholds for full-time missionaries in October. Men can depart a year earlier, at age 18, and women can go two years sooner, at 19.
The report on the impact of those changes is slated to be presented Jan. 25 to the Board of Regents. Each of Utah's eight public colleges and universities reported enrollment and revenue projections, based on internal student data and communications with local LDS leaders.
"We can safely say that the change is a sea change," said James Morales, vice president for student affairs at Utah State University, which is expected to take a $3.5 million hit in the next academic year.
The effect is predicted to be temporary, as returned missionaries are expected to start or go back to college. But it isn't clear how many will return and what effect a mission may have on the completion of their education especially for women, who are now allowed to serve at a much younger age.
Mormon leaders are already seeing twice as many missionary applications, and women now make up about half the candidates (up from 15 percent before the change).
The LDS Church asks all young men who are able to complete a two-year mission; women serve 18 months. That means more men will be leaving after high school, rather than first enrolling in college for a semester or two. Women could be leaving after their freshman year, as many men have in the past.
Colleges expecting the largest drops are those serving younger students in areas with a high percentage LDS residents, according to the report. Schools with a primarily residential student body will lose revenue not from tuition, but also from housing, food and other services.
Southern Utah University (SUU), Dixie State College and Snow College were among the schools preparing for a larger impact, while the state's flagship school, the University of Utah, and Salt Lake Community College believe they stand to lose a much smaller percentage of their students.
Dixie State, for example, has already seen a 4 percent enrollment drop this semester, said David Roos, executive director of enrollment services.
"I'm actually happy we didn't see a bigger drop," he said though the announcement came barely three months ago and more students could leave before next year. "We're really concerned about the fall."
SUU could lose up to 14 percent of its freshman class, which was 1,400 last year, said Stephen Allen, associate vice president for enrollment management. That could equal $4.2 million in lost revenue.
"That's a lot of money for a school like SUU," he said. Like several other schools, SUU is looking to attract more students from out of state to help make up for lost revenue, a move that could lead to a cultural shift through increased diversity on Utah campuses.
"That's important as an institution," he said, "to create opportunity for students to have experiences with people who are different from themselves."
•University of Utah
Anticipating a drop of up to 860 students and $5.1 million in revenue, or 2 percent of tuition and fee revenue, in the 2014 academic year.
•Utah State University
Enrollment could drop by up to 1,900 students in 2014 and revenue losses could be $3.5 million, about 1 percent.
•Weber State University
Could lose up to 1,200 students in fall 2014, or $7 million in lost revenue a year, by 2014.
• Southern Utah University
Could lose more than 10 percent of freshman class and $4.1 million, or 10 percent of tuition and fee revenue.
Could lose up to 750 students and $1.86 million in revenue next academic year.
•Dixie State College
Enrollment decreases could total 10 percent for $2 million in revenue lost.
• Utah Valley University
Could lose up to about 2,400 students in fall 2014 and $8.1 million in revenue.
• Salt Lake Community College
Looking at up to 1.5 percent enrollment decline this semester, or $279,200 in lost revenues.
Missionary age change: Predicting the impact
Utah colleges and universities expect to lose students and tuition revenue as LDS missionaries depart at younger ages.
University of Utah • Anticipates a drop of up to 860 students and $5.1 million in revenue, or 2 percent of tuition and fee revenue, in the 2014 academic year.
Utah State University • Enrollment could drop by up to 1,900 students in 2014 and revenue losses could be $3.5 million, about 1 percent.
Weber State University • Could lose up to 1,200 students in fall 2014, or $7 million in lost revenue in 2014.
Southern Utah University • Could lose more than 10 percent of freshman class and $4.1 million, or 10 percent of tuition and fee revenue for 2013-14 school year.
Snow College • Could lose up to 750 students and $1.86 million in revenue next academic year.
Dixie State College • Enrollment decreases could total 10 percent for $2 million in revenue lost in fall 2013.
Utah Valley University • Could lose up to about 2,400 students in fall 2014 and $8.1 million in revenue.
Salt Lake Community College • Looking at up to 1.5 percent enrollment decline this semester, or $279,200 in lost revenues.