Missionary age change causes hit to BYU-I enrollment

Spring semester enrollment is down at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

University records show 12,931 students were enrolled this past semester — a 7.7 percent decline from spring 2013, when 14,007 students were enrolled.

BYU-Idaho officials attribute the decrease to the ongoing impact of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ missionary age change in October 2012. The change lowered the minimum age requirements for missionaries from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women. Officials predict the change will continue to affect enrollment through the end of 2014.

“Students have the option to defer enrollment until a certain time period,” university spokesman Marc Stevens said. “So we’re able to make estimates based on a number of factors — how many are currently on campus and how many are coming back. Based on what we see, it looks like through the end of this year is when we’ll see the greatest impact.”

BYU-Idaho operates on a three-track semester system, meaning students are enrolled for two of its three yearly semesters and take a three-month break during their off-track semester.

Beginning this past winter semester, university admission officials began filling some spots opened by students on deferments with “off-track” students — selectively offering enrollment to those who otherwise would be on break. That helped create a slight uptick in this winter semester’s enrollment from the previous year.

While offering spots to off-track students remains an option, Stevens said, enrollment fluctuates naturally, as evidenced this spring.

“There’s just a lot of change from semester-to-semester,” he said. “As students make their plans and leave on their missions, it just really changes things from one time to the next. But there’s always that flexibility for students to do off-track (enrollment).”

Enrollment in the university’s online courses and Pathway — BYU-Idaho’s one-year, international distance-learning college preparation program — increased dramatically this spring. Combined online and Pathway enrollment was 12,141 students, up from 6,852 last spring.

In April, the university also opened its 100th domestic Pathway site, located in Rexburg.

“The university’s reach is really growing. It’s just amazing how it’s happening through technology and off-site offerings,” Stevens said. “There’s growth on campus of course, but now, there’s just as much growth happening away from the university as well. It’s really neat to see.”