Mormon missionary age reduction prompts U. deferment policy

In a crucial policy shift aimed at accommodating young Mormon missionaries, the University of Utah will allow incoming students to defer admission while they pursue church, humanitarian or military service for up to 2½ years.

Current policies require students who want to put off college to apply for a leave of absence, but they can make the request only after they complete at least one semester of school.

"Freshman students who want to study at the U and are faced with other obligations, will not have to sacrifice their educational future. A deferment grants them a spot in their class at the U, and we guarantee a seamless re-entry when they are able to return," said U. President David Pershing in a news release Monday announcing the new policy.

In another first, the state flagship is also requiring all admitted students to put up a $150 deposit.

These policies are part of the U.’s ongoing overhaul of admissions procedures to ensure those admitted are serious about school, are well-prepared for college and work toward timely graduation.

Starting next fall, applicants will no longer be judged merely on grade-point averages and ACT scores. As part of a "holistic" admissions process, officials will examine the difficulty of the classes they took in high school, community service, cultural interests and other aspects of young people’s lives that confirm their ability to thrive in college, Pershing announced last month at his inaugural.

The U.’s new $150 deposit, which is due May 1 for those admitted to start in fall, is a common requirement at research universities.

"It’s a way for us to make sure what the class size is coming in and we have services and classes available," said Mary Parker, vice president for enrollment management.

A new deferment policy had been in the works, but the recent decision by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to lower the age of missionary service prompted officials to craft it more quickly, Parker said.

The former leave-of-absence rule would be of little help to the throngs of Mormon men expected to depart on missions right out of high school next fall.

Triggering this exodus is the drop in mission age from 19 to 18 for men and from 21 to 19 for women. Officials are bracing for shrinking enrollments at all Utah colleges and universities as early as next semester.

"We want to encourage students to apply [for college admission] while they are still in high school. If you wait two years, there is no guarantee you will be admitted with holistic admissions," Parker said. "Student success is extremely important for us. We will secure everything upfront, so while they are gone [on missions or military service] they can focus on what they are doing."

The policy allows a deferment for seven consecutive semesters, including summers. In other words, a student admitted for next fall can defer admission until spring 2016. Each request will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The policy, which takes effect for those admitted to start school in fall 2013 or later, also applies to transfer and re-admitted students but not to international students. Applicants must provide documentation to support the deferral.

Military enlistments typically exceed the U.’s new deferral window, but Parker said procedures will be in place to allow soldiers to request extensions.