Utah performs less well in the category of participation than one would expect given the high preparation scores. The state is tied for the top ranking in preparation, but ranks only 32nd among the 50 states in participation.19 One reason for this may be that a smaller percentage of students go on to college immediately after high school because they often take time out to go on missions for the LDS Church. It is estimated that 40% of LDS men go on a two-year mission between the ages of 19 and 26.20 This may contribute to Utah's below average performance on the Measuring Up indicator, "Chance for College by Age 19." Utah also has a relatively low participation rate among working adults, which contributes to lower than expected performance in this category. Increasingly important is the fact that 18-24 year olds who are white are three times as likely to attend college as those of the same age who are from minority ethnic groups. This gap is the widest in the nation, and is of particular concern as the minority population in Utah continues to grow.21
Recent research by the Education Commission of the States suggests that if Utah were to improve its participation rates to match those of the states with today's highest participation rates, higher education enrollments would have to increase by 35% between 2000 and 2015.22
While their participation rates may not be as high as we would expect given the strong performance in preparation, data collected by the state show some improvement in its participation rates over the past 20 years. The Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) calculates participation rates as headcount enrollment as a percentage of the total 18-29 year old population in the state. Between 1981 and 2002, this number increased from 14.5% to 22.4%.23
See Measuring Up 2004, "State Rankings," www.highereducation.org (December 7, 2004).
Tasha Oldham, The Mormon Church and Missionaries,. discussion of PBS documentary, "The Smith Family," http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2002/thesmithfamily/discovermore_b.html (February 25, 2004).
Measuring Up 2004: Utah, p. 7.
Ruppert, Sandra S., Closing the College Participation Gap: A National Summary, and State Profiles: Utah (Denver: Education Commission of the States, 2003).
Participation rates are calculated by the USHE as a ratio of headcount enrollment in a given year to the number of 18-29 year olds in the population in that year. (Exact figures from Excel spreadsheet provided by USHE March 19, 2004.) Participation rates measured this way do not include students who attend college at out-of-state or private institutions, and thus the participation rates in fact would be higher than the percentages represented here.