In October 2012, The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a change in the age requirement to serve a mission to 18 for men and 19 for women. People were left to wonder what the effect would be on Weber State University’s enrollment. Now, almost a year later, the Utah Board of Regents released numbers showing a drop of nearly 7 percent.
When the LDS Church first made the announcement, the Board of Regents braced itself for losing as many as 20 percent of enrolled students.
“The missionary hit was not big as originally thought (when) we first started planning for this,” said Clayton Anderson, the director of budget and institutional research at WSU.
Student enrollment is measured in two different ways. The first measures the amount of budget-related full-time credits students are taking. Two students taking six credit hours each would add up to a full-time equalization, or as a one-time student. The budget-related full-time equivalents dropped by 6.94 percent in 2013.
The second number is head count. This number differs from full-time equalization and counts the number of students enrolled in any class at WSU. The number includes anyone enrolled in a credit at WSU, including high school students in concurrent enrollment classes. In 2013, the total head count dropped by 5.17 percent.
Another reason cited for the decrease in enrollment is the improving economy in Utah. Pamela Silberman, the communication director for the Utah System of Higher Education, said institutions of higher education usually see an increase during an economic downturn, when people normally go back to get more training or finish their degrees. “Then, when the economy improves, they go back to the work force.” She pointed out that even though 2013 has seen an decrease in enrollment, WSU is still up 17 percent in total head count since 2008.
There is hope for the future as well. David Buhler, Utah’s commissioner of higher education, said in a news release, “Utah is one of the few states in the country expecting increased enrollment over the next decade. Our institutions will see a surge of returned missionaries in the next two to four years.”
Silberman said that, in addition to the LDS missionaries coming home, Utah will see a 25 percent increase in high school graduations in the next 10 years.
“That age group is significant in the state of Utah, and those children are reaching high school age in the next 10 years,” said Silberman, who went on to say the Utah System of Higher Education projects that WSU will grow another 4 percent between now and 2022.
In 2008 when the economy crashed, state schools were strapped for cash, and had their budgets slashed as well. Increased students and lower budgets led to state schools being stretched thin. Silberman cautioned that, with the looming spike of students, the state can’t afford to make the same mistake again.
“The state needs to continue to invest in higher education even if we’re having a slight a decrease right now. In the next year or two, long term, we’re going to see increases.”