The Utah Senate Education Committee advanced a bill that would remove the cap of tuition waivers university presidents can offer to out-of-state students on Monday.
The bill, SB 51, responded to a statewide drop in university enrollment because of the lowering of the age members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can go on missions.
Currently, the U can offer 190 waivers a year. Supporters hope the bill will enable universities to keep enrollment up and stay out of a financial crisis.
University presidents would be given the opportunity to offer these waivers to “above average” students they want to attract to their institutions, thus allowing them to temporarily buffer enrollment while more LDS youth depart.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-Wash, chair of the higher education appropriations subcommittee, presented the bill, suggesting it would be a way to help universities deal with the financial issues that will come with the greater amount of departing missionaries they are already anticipating.
“We’re accelerating a couple of missionary exoduses into one or two years,” Urquhart said.
The LDS Church has been seeing an immense increase in missionary applications. The church is processing as many as 4,000 applications a week — many times more than the 700 applications it was dealing with a year ago, according to a church press release. Those numbers can be attributed to the change in missionary age, since a wider range of ages is now allowed to serve.
The consensus at the meeting was that the numbers are expected to taper off in two years or so, which is why universities in Utah need a temporary solution to the problem.
Dave Buhler, commissioner for higher education, said the issue will be a “serious problem” for universities. Stan Albrecht, president of Utah State University, said it is already greatly affecting his university.
“We have already lost about 650 students from our spring semester and these are losses that we really can’t do anything about, because we didn’t have any planning time,” Albrecht said.
Leaders of the LDS Church did not warn universities of the change in advance and Albrecht said it caught them completely off guard. Given the losses the university is already suffering, he said Utah State expects to lose 1,950 students over the course of a few years, amounting to a tuition loss of $19 million.
“Tuition now makes up about half of the funding for our institutions,” Urquhart said. “This leaves a big hole.”
The bill would also extend alumni non-resident scholarships to the grandchildren of alumni. Supporters hope the combination will help universities fill the seats departing missionaries leave empty.
If passed, it is likely universities will be required to report to the legislature each year to determine if the extra tuition waivers and alumni scholarships are still necessary to keep enrollment up.
Buhler said he has had discussions with all of the university presidents, who are in unanimous support of the bill, welcoming an opportunity to avoid financial crisis and attract exceptional non-residents to their institutions.
House Bill 254, College Credit for Veterans: Would require colleges and universities to award credit for military service and training.
Senate Bill 40, Utah Navajo Royalties Amendments: Allows for increased educational funding for Navajo Indians living in San Juan County in case of increased tuition at colleges or universities.
Senate Bill 42, Medical School Funding: Authorizes the U’s medical school to accept 40 additional students each year who show strong ties to Utah, allotting $10 million from the education fund to help with this increase.
Senate Bill 51, Higher Education Tuition Waivers: Would allow university presidents to offer unlimited partial tuition waivers to above average non-residents at their discretion. Alumni non-resident scholarships extended to grandchildren.
Senate Bill 100, Higher Education Scholarship Amendments: Weights GPA for International Baccalaureate students when determining scholarship eligibility, changes requirements for students applying for New Century scholarships.
Senate Bill 118, Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Amendment: Requires the center to maintain a website providing public access to research findings impacting environmental and occupational health (such as the impacts of air pollution).
Senate Bill 162, Concurrent Enrollment Amendments: allows universities and colleges to charge concurrent enrollment students partial tuition for gateway or technology-intensive courses.