The expected vacuum created by younger Mormon missionaries leaving Utah and depressing enrollment in the state’s universities could get a boost under a Senate bill that passed unanimously Tuesday.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said SB51 would grant in-state tuition for high-achieving students from outside of Utah to help fill the void created by the new LDS Church policy enacted last year lowering the age for men and women to go on two-year missions to 18 and 19, respectively.
"This creates an interesting storm for us," Urquhart said.
A Utah Board of Regents report suggested enrollment declines due to the new church policy could spell a 10 percent reduction in revenue to the state university system. Some colleges such as Dixie State College and Snow College are bracing for even steeper enrollment drops.
According to the report, the University of Utah is projecting the loss of $5.1 million in tuition revenue and 860 students for the 2014 academic year. Utah Valley University, according to the report, is looking at losing 2,400 students and $8.1 million in revenue.
Urquhart said the measure is a "stopgap," and he doesn’t see the problem being a permanent one.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he wasn’t enthusiastic about the bill because a reduction in students might be a good time for the schools to "lean up" as a business might. But he also said he supported the proposal because it was "creative."
During a longer debate Monday, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, worried about "when do we turn off the spigot" for offering nonresident tuition to fill the gap. Urquhart said each university could tailor the proposal to its individual needs.
Urquhart said the proposal is "a wonderful opportunity to fill the hole ... and to improve the caliber of our student body."
The bill now moves to the House.
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