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On Saturday morning, Thomas S. Monson, the current president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced to followers of the church that the missionary standards of the church regarding the age at which missionaries would enter missionary service would be changing. Previously set at 19 for Mormon men and at 21 for women, the ages have been lowered to 18 and 19 respectively.
And for anyone who thinks this isn’t a big deal, especially on the Utah level, go back and check local social media over the weekend.
This is not a new policy for the church internationally. Many Mormon men in other countries are allowed to serve at age 18 because of reasons of required military service or other domestic obligations. Church leaders, according to Monson, have been pleased with the younger missionaries, and see no difference between them and the traditional 19-year-olds.
So, what does this mean for Weber State University?
Obviously, The Signpost is not a Mormon publication, and WSU is not a private LDS institution like Brigham Young University, but to ignore the impact of this change to WSU and other local universities would be foolish.
Utah’s population, according to the latest census, is 62.2 percent LDS, and most Utah universities reflect this in their own enrollment demographics. At WSU, the LDS population is also large, as evidenced by the heavy activity around the Ogden LDS Institute (exact numbers of LDS enrollment at WSU were not available).
These changes will mean that many Mormon men, instead of attending college for a year before heading out on their missions, will now have the option to enter church missionary service directly after graduating from high school. Women will be able to serve, generally, after just a year of attending college.
This should not affect the overall enrollment statistics of the university, but it will affect what those demographics look like. There will most likely be a smaller number of 18-year-old men on campus, changing the face of our freshman population.Young men in the church will have a lot more to think about as they graduate from high school. And the church expects that many more LDS women will serve missions, now that the younger entrance age will cause less interruption of educational opportunities or marital chances. The change might also mean that more LDS women get married at age 18, although current trends show that even LDS women are getting married at a slightly older age.
“Through this option, more of our youth may enjoy the blessings of a mission,” said Russell M. Nelson, an LDS administration member known as a general authority.
According to a news release, Nelson and other church leaders also said they foresee the lowered age requirement encouraging more LDS young men and women to serve missions. The church’s worldwide missionary force currently stands at around 55,000 people, including retired, senior missionary couples.
This change will also affect the methods of university athletics recruiting. Many of the local male athletes colleges recruit are LDS and will now be serving missions right out of high school. This might eliminate the “redshirting” custom (practicing with the team for a year without playing) popular among local schools.
This change greatly impacts what it means to be a college freshman for LDS students. If nothing else, it is an interesting change, and the impact of it won’t really be recognized for a year or two.