The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has made a change to its policies that could direct young men and women to alter their post-high-school plans directly.

Kevin Kiley of Inside Higher Ed has the details of the new rules that could impact many institutions, especially those with a large number of Mormons in their student body.

Announcements by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints tend to come without much warning, and on October 6 the church’s leadership dropped a bombshell.

Effective immediately, the church’s leadership said during the opening session of its semiannual General Conference, the minimum age for Mormon missionaries would be lowered from 19 for men and 21 for women to 18 and 19, respectively. That might not sound significant to individuals outside the faith, but reporters noted that the audience in the hall audibly gasped at the announcement.

And it meant something big for institutions like the Utah Valley University, Weber State University, the University of Utah and other colleges and universities with large Mormon populations, who realized they had a challenge on their hands.

Mormon missions, in which young men and women generally spend two years or 18 months, respectively, in a location determined by the church (often abroad), proselytizing and engaged in humanitarian, community and church service, are a rite of passage for many of the faith. The church’s announcement means that essentially two cohorts of college-aged men and three cohorts of college-aged women will be departing for missions simultaneously.

That means that for roughly the next five semesters — the amount of time it takes for those cohorts to depart and return — institutions with large LDS populations will have to confront decreased tuition revenue and enrollment as the number of Mormon missionaries, both men and women, surges.

While enrollments are expected to stabilize after that period, the ripples of the missionary age change could present countless challenges for institutions that serve large Mormon populations. These institutions will have to evaluate how they recruit young men who will likely depart on two-year missions before ever setting foot on campus, how they retain missionaries who might have little connection to campus, how to serve students when they return from what many consider life-changing experiences, and how to engage with a group of young men who will be two years older than many of their peers and more likely to be married, have kids and be less engaged in campus life.