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(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Students Kaylene Finch, left, and Geoff Canaan, study in a lounge in the classroom building at Snow College.
Utah college enrollment boom coming after Mormon missionary drop
Report » After dip caused by lowered LDS missionary age, number of Utah students will grow faster than U.S. average.
First Published May 19 2014 12:48 pm • Last Updated May 19 2014 10:14 pm

Utah’s public colleges are expected to grow much faster than the national average during the next decade.

Beehive State institutions have seen enrollment dips since the Mormon church lowered age requirements for its missionaries nearly two years ago, but new figures from the Utah System of Higher Education predict student numbers will start growing again this fall.

At a glance

Utah’s college enrollment*

University of Utah

2013: 32,767

Projected 2023: 38,284

Utah State University

2013: 28,698

2023: 36,318

Weber State University

2013: 25,886

2023: 35,018

Southern Utah University

2013: 8,227

2023: 10,630

Snow College

2013: 4,581

2023: 7,293

Dixie State University

2013: 8,147

2023: 10,953

Utah Valley University

2013: 30,880

2023: 45,383

Salt Lake Community College

2013: 35,043

2023: 39,002

* head count figure. Source: Utah System of Higher Education

Utah’s college enrollment*

University of Utah

2013 » 32,767

Projected 2023 » 38,284

Utah State University

2013 » 28,698

2023 » 36,318

Weber State University

2013 » 25,886

2023 » 35,018

Southern Utah University

2013 » 8,227

2023 » 10,630

Snow College

2013 » 4,581

2023 » 7,293

Dixie State University

2013 » 8,147

2023 » 10,953

Utah Valley University

2013 » 30,880

2023 » 45,383

Salt Lake Community College

2013 » 35,043

2023 » 39,002

* head count figure

Source » Utah System of Higher Education

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And the rolls are expected to boom from there — from about 177,000 now to a head count of nearly 223,000 by 2023, according to a report released Friday. That’s a 25 percent jump.

The nation as a whole, meanwhile, is slated to add 14 percent to its college-student pool in the coming years, the National Center for Education Statistics found earlier this year.

"That’s really driven by the demographic trends of Utah. We are a very young state," said Dave Buhler, commissioner for higher education.

Utah is one of the fastest growing in the country, in terms of both birthrate and number of people moving in.

"This is pretty unique to Utah," Buhler added. "Some states, the challenge for public institutions is the populations are shrinking. … Our opportunity and challenge is the opposite."

Namely, the challenge is how to educate all those students. It’s going to take more public investment, he said, and also trying new ideas, such as empathizing summer courses so buildings are used year-round.

"You’re going to have to have people to teach them, and you’re going to have to have more facilities to teach them in," he said. "You just can’t grow that much on the same people and plants."

With an average annual growth rate of 3.9 percent, Utah Valley University is expected to have the state’s largest head count enrollment in a few years. UVU is adding capacity physically and virtually, said school President Matthew Holland, by building new classrooms, buying land in Vineyard and also beefing up online offerings.

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"We’ve got to find a way to come together to make this work for higher education," Holland said, "because so much hinges on it."

Of Utah’s eight public institutions, the smallest, Snow College, is expected to grow the most quickly at nearly 5 percent a year. Much of that growth is projected for later in the decade, when the effects of age-change requirements for LDS missionaries likely will have dissipated.

Despite being heavily Mormon, the approximately 4,600-student Snow College dodged the worst of the declines, thanks to an aggressive campaign to draw students from the urban Wasatch Front to the rural Ephraim campus.

It also likely helps that the two-year college is the cheapest school in the public system — tuition will be less than $3,000 next year.

Salt Lake Community College is slated to grow more slowly, at about 1.1 percent a year, according to the report released Friday. In SLCC’s case, an improving economy will likely mean slower growth as potential students go into the workforce instead.

The flagship University of Utah is also expected to grow at a slower average rate of 1.6 percent annually. Mary Parker, associate vice president for enrollment management, said the U. is focused on giving students a more individualized education.

"We want to make sure," she said, "that, when we look at the total size and the number of students here, that we’re able to provide all the services we believe are important in a University of Utah education."


Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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