SALT LAKE CITY — This weekend marks one year since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a lower age for missionary service.
It caused a big drop in enrollment at Utah's colleges and universities. Now those campuses are preparing for what happens when the first wave of missionaries comes back.
It's lunchtime at the Cannon Center on BYU's campus. This is traditionally a freshman hangout, but for freshman Emma Brink it looks different than when her three older sisters attended BYU.
"Just population wise, there's an entire building and a half vacant of boys," she said.
One thousand 18-year-old men went on missions instead of to BYU this fall. It was 2,000 women.
"You used to see them a lot more often," said 21-year-old Jeremy Harmon who recently returned from a mission in Fortaleza, Brazil. "I'm a sophomore student here, and there's not many sophomore girls."
"We are down now, but there will be a place for them when they come back," said BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead.
He said the school's long-standing deferred enrollment plan is helping it plan for the wave of returning missionaries that will start to come back.
It's a similar situation at Utah State University. USU Vice president for Student Services James Morales, estimates it has 1,250 fewer students this fall because of the lower missionary age. The school helped mitigate the loss with transfer students and out of state students. School leaders believe the numbers will even back out when current missionaries start to come home.
Morales said the freshman class of the future will be a hybrid of fresh high school grads and newly returned missionaries.
"Very different are the needs of a 20 to 21-year-old freshman versus a 17 to 18-year-old freshman," he said.
Morales leads a task force at USU looking at those changing needs. Services, housing, activities and orientation could all need to change.
At Utah Valley University, where Vice president of Student Affairs Michelle Taylor said enrollment was down 6 percent this fall, crews are building a new student center, classrooms and parking garage to get ready for returning missionaries.
"We are definitely planning for them to come back. We expect an upward trajectory of students in the coming years," she said.
U of U
UVU and the University of Utah expanded their deferred enrollment programs. The U's Associate Vice president for Enrollment Management Mary Parker said the school is keeping in contact with the 400 deferring students now on missions by emailing their parents or other contact person while they are away.
"We are letting them know that the U wants you back. We will make the transition easy, and we will look at the needs you have," she said.
Officials at all the universities said when that call to serve is over, they are anxious to work with students with any financial, housing, and enrollment questions to get them back on campus.