New missionary policy impacts LDS students as they change college plans and lives
That won't be a significant issue at BYU-Hawaii, said Michael Johanson, the school's director of communications. The Oahu-based school draws students from gigantic swath of the Pacific Rim and Polynesia.
Because of the distance involved, many students serve missions before enrolling at BYUH to reduce the number of expensive trips across the Pacific Ocean. The 2,700 students on campus have an average age of 23, Johanson said.
Johanson predicts the new policy might have a greater immediate affect on young women than young men — a thought echoed on other campuses.
That's how it looked to Alana Smith as she scrolled through Facebook entries yesterday. "Almost every single post was another girlfriend who has decided to go on a mission — instantaneously," she said. "It's awesome."
The announcement opens up tremendous opportunities for students, said LDS Business College vice president of advancement Craig Nelson.
"It will have an impact, but from our vantage point, at LDS Business College, it looks like an exciting thing. How it impacts our enrollment, and the order that students do things — I think that's yet to be seen. We'll be as interested as everybody else to see how it happens."
Challenges and opportunities
Public colleges and universities in the Intermountain West are likely to experience significant change as the result of the new missionary policy. College presidents in Utah have already started trying to assess those, and formulate plans, said Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David L. Buhler.
"When enrollment drops, that has impact on operating revenue," Buhler said. "When enrollment goes down and students aren’t there with tuition dollars, it doesn't mean a proportionate reduction in costs. We still have to pay the teachers, and the light bills. That's a thing we're going to look at carefully."
The changed policy might heighten opportunities for some students, though, by making it easier for them to get into the school of their choice, Buhler said.
National data shows that enrolling in college immediately after high school heightens educational attainment and college graduation rates, Buhler said. Utah's missionary phenomenon creates an anomaly, however.
"We like to see students in college after high school, but missions may improve the inclination to enroll in college because of the discipline, study habits, and influence of peers," he said.
"Hopefully, in the long term this will not diminish the number of LDS missionaries completing college. There were a number of messages at (LDS general) conference about how important higher education completion is for young men and women. We salute that."
At Southern Virginia University, a private college that serves LDS students on the nation's Eastern Seaboard, the campus is buzzing with the news of the changed policy, said vice-president of communications Burke Olsen.
"At a smaller institution that relies largely upon tuition, we feel changes in enrollment. If there is significant change, we will notice it," Olsen said. "But, we are thrilled for any young man or woman who can enter the mission field sooner."
SVU offers scholarships to many returned missionaries, and provides some enrollment flexibility for students returning soon after semesters have begun, Olsen said.
Changing young lives
It will take at least two years to begin understanding the changes wrought on college campuses by the new missionary policy, Buhler said. Alana Smith believes she can already predict how missionary service will affect her schooling, and the rest of her life.
"I will have the amazing opportunity to go into my junior year of college more prepared, mature, and more ready to talk to people and communicate," she said. "I want to come out of a mission and go into my profession, able to keep the gospel with me. If I can go and share the gospel with other people, I can come back and keep it with me for the rest of my life."
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