SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers moved one step closer Monday to passing a measure that would help fill a revenue gap left by an unprecedented exodus of students on Mormon missions by allowing public colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition to high-performing students from other states.
The Utah House education committee unanimously passed the measure, which would allow school presidents to waive the out-of-state portion of tuition for "meritorious" students, a short discussion. The Utah Senate approved the bill earlier this month.
Enrollment is down this spring at nearly all of Utah's colleges and universities, and they are expecting bigger dips in the fall. Higher education officials are projecting losses in the millions over the next 2 1/2 years due to the lost tuition.
Mission applications have doubled since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in October it was lowering the minimum age for missionaries: from 21 to 19 for women; and from 19 to 18 for men. Now, new, younger missionaries are preparing for missions at the same time as older missionaries who were already planning to go.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said the measure gives university presidents a tool to help them avoid having to scrap the barrel to find replacement students.
"Let's go out and compete for the best and brightest," said Urquhart. "They will stay, they will create jobs, they will help our economy."
The bill, as currently written, would allow university presidents to continue to give in-state tuition to non-residents students as long as they are enrolled in the school.
When questioned why the bill doesn't sunset at any point, Urquhart said Monday that he wants to see how it plays out and if it helps bring better out-of-state students.
David Buhler, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, told the committee that all eight state universities and colleges support the measure. He called it a useful and worthwhile tool, and urged the committee's support.
Enrollment is down 1-7 percent at eight Utah universities and colleges compared to the same time last year, show figures from the Utah System of Higher Education and the LDS-owned and operated BYU. The only school to report an increase is the University of Utah, where enrollment is up by less than 1 percent.
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