Bracing for a projected 10-percent enrollment dip this year following the LDS Church’s lowered missionary age midway through last year, Southern Utah University administrators are pleased to report the new school year has brought with it more students — new and returning — than expected, according to the Fall 2013 numbers news release by the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) today.
With a 6.65-percent decline in student headcount from fall 2012, SUU’s fall 2013 headcount is 7,745, down from 8,297 last year.
“This campus had made preparations for a temporary slip in enrollment before I arrived and everyone is quite pleased that our adjustment was not that severe,” said Interim University President, Rich Kendell.
With the potential of losing many more enrolled students than the ultimate 6.65 percent, according to interim vice president for student services and former associate vice president for enrollment management, Stephen Allen, SUU administrators factored the change in age for LDS missionary service in two ways when preparing initial 2013-14 enrollment projections. Many current female students suddenly became eligible for missionary work at once in addition to the LDS students coming out of high school who may now take a service leave from their education much sooner, or delay enrolling in college altogether.
An estimated 80 percent of the University’s student body reports a religious affiliation with the LDS faith.
“A concerted team effort on our campus to avoid a more significant drop helped mitigate this short-term adjustment in the LDS student population,” said Kendell. “I congratulate a lot of people across the SUU campus for working hard to find additional students to avoid the planned shortfall.”
USHE Commissioner David Buhler said the higher than anticipated student headcount at schools across the state is due largely to “significant and targeted efforts to recruit new students and encourage others to remain enrolled until they leave for missionary service.”
At SUU, according to Allen, recruitment efforts have significantly increased in out-of-state markets, with one in four of this year’s incoming freshmen coming from outside of the state.
Allen also said the University will be aggressive in recruiting prospective students as they return from missions, marking a slight shift in a recruitment system that, by and large, has focused on attracting outgoing high school students.
Additionally, the University has redoubled its focus on student retention.
“Our retention and graduation rates continue to climb and is ultimately a better measure of an institution's success than a sole focus on enrollment numbers,” explained University Provost Brad Cook. “Enrollment is obviously important, but we continue to push ourselves as to how we can best assist students in completing their education with solid skill sets. Students who enroll and then eventually drop out is a very inefficient use of state and personal resources. In our opinion, solid enrollment with increasing success in retention and persistence of students to graduation is a better way to measure our success.”
With the exception of Snow College, every public college and university across the state recorded a dip in enrollment. In addition to the impact of the missionary age change, an improving state economy is also credited for the enrollment decline. According to a press release from USHE, “When the economy is growing and jobs are more plentiful, some students leave college to return to the workforce.”