OREM, Utah – Utah Valley University started its fall semester more than a week ago, and they’re already seeing more students than last year. That’s a promising start after hundreds of students left to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints three years ago.
Jake Jensen served for two years as a missionary for the LDS Church in the Hawaii, Honolulu mission. Now, the 21-year-old is attending Utah Valley University, and he’s not alone.
“This is where my siblings have gone," he said. "It's convenient for where I live."
Utah Valley University is expecting to see a big increase in enrollment.
In 2014, they had 31,000 students. This year, they’re expecting an additional 1,000 students. That’s a roughly 3.2 percent increase.
“It's a safe bet that many of those will be returned missionaries,” said Melinda Colton, Spokesperson for Utah Valley University.
Eighty percent of UVU students are Mormon.
Enrollment numbers began dropping in fall of 2012. That’s when the LDS Church lowered the age to 18 for men to serve missions and announced women could serve at 19.
“We did see a decline as every other university in the state found,” Colton said.
UVU lost students and more than $5 million in tuition revenue.
Fast forward to fall of 2015, and returning missionaries like Jake and Cara are headed back to school.
“I realized more and more the importance of education while I was on my mission,” Cara Olsen said.
“Definitely a place where I could get started and see if I can transfer somewhere else,” Jensen said.
UVU administrators reached out to parents of returned missionaries early on and educated them about deferred enrollment and postponing scholarships.
“It's not just about numbers for us, ultimately it's about getting as many students as we can in our seats so that we can teach them and help them in our future careers,” Colton said.
Other universities and colleges in Utah won’t get final enrollment numbers for several more weeks, but Brigham Young University tells FOX 13 News they expect to see a 10 percent increase in their enrollment.