Tuition waivers help USU offset Mormon missionary losses
Out-of-state students can save thousands after law change.
Published: February 4, 2014 07:16PM
Updated: February 4, 2014 11:04AM

When Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced a significant drop in the age required to go on missions two years ago, James Morales knew he’d have a problem.

The vice president for student services at Utah State University estimated they’d lose close to 2,000 students, or about $19 million in revenue.

“We knew there was a significant challenge on the horizon we would be facing,” Morales told Utah lawmakers at the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting Monday. USU officials predicted they’d lose women entering their sophomore year who saw age requirements drop from 21 to 19 and men who decided to leave on a mission directly after high school at 18 rather than enroll in college and leave at 19. One way they proposed to offset the loss: Bring in more students from out of state.

Recruiters were already pitching Utah’s relatively low tuition. To sweeten the pot, state higher education administrators asked the Utah Legislature to change a law so they could offer more high-achieving non-Utah students the same tuition rate as those born and bred in the Beehive State.

The bill passed, removing the limitations on out-of-state tuition waivers for above-average students and also allowing colleges to offer in-state tuition to grandchildren of alumni. USU recruiters jumped on the new tool.

“We went out very aggressively to promote these waivers,” Morales said.

And it could be a tempting offer for students and their families: A waiver can save a full-time undergraduate student about $6,000 a year, dropping the out-of-state 15-credit-hour bill of about $9,000 a year to the local rate of just over $3,000 in tuition and fees.

The number of students who were offered waivers and ultimately enrolled at USU jumped from 20 last year to 192 this school year. Legacy waivers also increased by 39 percent, to 327 students.

USU staffers’ missionary-loss projections were generally on point: They did lose about 1,700 students, Morales said, but the school was able to fill all but 550 of those spots. Though not all of those new students got a waiver, those who did included a young woman from Anaheim, Calif., who wants to be a pharmacist and a mechanical engineering major who transferred from the University of California-Davis, Morales said.

Coming from Colorado and California as well as Minnesota and Florida, the new additions made for a more diverse class geographically and ethnically, Morales said. As required by the new law, their grades and test scores were also better than average, coming in about 11 admissions index points higher than the typical USU student.

The legacy students were also a bit higher.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsored the bill.

“USU and Dixie [State University] were the two that really jumped on this, helped craft the legislation, knew it was coming and planned for it,” he said Monday.

Dixie State officials said their out-of-state waivers helped cover the loss of students going on Mormon missions this academic year.

At USU, it’s also helping the picture look rosier for next year, Morales said. Out-of-state waiver applications are already up significantly.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

Out-of-state tuition waivers at USU

Fall 2012: 20

Fall 2013: 192