Where do BYU students come from?

chemapThe Chronicle of Higher Education has given us a new statistical toy to play with. Based on the Department of Education’s enrollment surveys, the Chronicle has created a widget that shows which U.S. states (but not foreign countries) the incoming freshman class of American colleges and universities come from.

For the BYU campuses, the results are about what you would expect from a private university with a national constituency but located in a large western state with a modest population. The largest contingents come from Utah, California, and other western states, with significant representation from the eastern U.S. as well. If you take a minute to compare BYU to other universities, you will find that the BYU student body has a geographic diversity in line with what you would find at other private national universities, which is significantly higher than most state universities. (There are undoubtedly similar statistics for racial, economic, and international geographic diversity, which this particular widget does not reflect. For what it is worth, the students who self-select for my classes at BYU-Idaho are about as diverse as the students I have previously taught at state universities, except for the fact that, you know, they’re all Mormons.)

There are a few surprises. While the larger states of the Midwest, Northeast, and South contribute BYU students in significant numbers, there is a band of states in the middle of the country, from North Dakota through Kansas to Louisiana, which relatively few BYU students call home. BYU-Idaho has become less Idahoan, with the Idaho contingent dropping from 30% to 20% of the freshman class over the last 15 years. BYU, on the other hand, has become more Utahan, from a recent low of 23% of freshmen in 1998 increasing to 32% in 2010, while the Californian contingent has declined. It will be interesting to see if the recent financial difficulties and tuition increases in the California public university systems will result in more Californians attending BYU.

35 comments for “Where do BYU students come from?

  1. November 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

    That is an awesome widget. Thanks for sharing.

  2. wondering
    November 1, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Church growth has been pretty stagnant or even negative in the big coastal population centers of California. Housing is just too expensive, especially so for families with one income and lots of kids. So Mormons tend to move away to places like Texas, Arizona, and Utah. Not surprising at all that the California contingent has declined.

    And I’d guess that what church growth California has seen is largely among Hispanics, who are probably less likely to pursue higher education.

    Job growth has been slow in the middle states, so fewer Mormons have relocated there.

  3. Ben S
    November 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Very interesting stuff! I wonder how closely this correlates with LDS population demographics; are there any areas over or under-represented at BYU? You know, like Iowa has very few Mormons, but a much higher percent attend BYU?

  4. chris
    November 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    wondering – is that based on conjecture or actual experience? I know people currently on English speaking SoCal missions who are baptizing pretty often.

  5. wondering
    November 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    chris – it’s a mixture of conjecture and experience. I’ve also looked at some church growth stats in the past that give this general impression.

    From a post at the LDS Church Growth blog:

    Several stakes were discontinued in California during the 1990s and 2000s largely due to shifting Latter-day Saint populations and Californian members moving outside of the state. There are now 158 stakes in California.


    Also look at the sidebar of that blog; by my count, 2011 has seen fifteen stakes created and none discontinued in Utah, while in California there was one stake created and one discontinued.

  6. wondering
    November 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Or see this post on “Decline in California Membership and Congregations:”


    I strongly suspect that if you looked at white English speaking members, who have historically made up the bulk of BYU students, the decline would be even greater. Lots of people movin’ out.

  7. Tim
    November 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Note the huge number of Californians at BYU-I. They almost outnumber those from Idaho. Perhaps that partly explains the drop in Californians at the main BYU campus?

  8. wondering
    November 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Oops, correction: 2011 has seen four Utah stakes discontinued so far.

  9. Last Lemming
    November 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    So I guess they don’t call it UC-Provo any more?

  10. jks
    November 1, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    I am surprised that they are letting the Utah percentage creep up like that. I had heard that they give out of staters a slight preference….which when you are asking your high schooler to go to early morning seminary that starts at 6 am while keeping a GPA to get into BYU you hope that those released time Utah slackers are getting a hit somewhere to level the playing field.
    Going from 1/4 to 1/3 of students is a huge shift. Perhaps now that there is BYU-I, BYU feels less pressure to admit the out of staters because they can still get a Mormon experience at BYU-I. However, their major selection has a long way to go.

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    November 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    During our 5 years in the San Francisco Bay Area (1989-1994), we witnessed the exodus of Mormons from our own wards and stakes, especially from the more expensive real estate in Marin County. Several members of the high council and stake presidency for Marin County and north moved to Utah, before we did, too. The inflation in home prices made the cost of living high, while giving an incentive to sell out and use the proceeds to retire on in Utah. A few even continued working in California, commuting via Southwest Airlines once a week. One of my home teaching families in Utah had come from California, and the husband returned to a job there, commuting home to Utah on most weekends.

    The statistics are true to my own experience here in Washington State, where our Sunday School in my former ward had an extra Gospel Doctrine class over the Christmas break to accommodate 20 BYU Students from our ward.

    I wold be interested in the statistics at the other end of college for BYU students, namely, how many of them stay in Utah versus return to their state or origin versus move to a third state?

    My understanding is that the original expectation when the Clark Law School was opened was that the non-Utah students would return home to practice law, but at BYU most law graduates are married, with many wives being from Utah, and in any case many Mormons have family ties in Utah, so the majority of graduates end up taking the Utah State Bar and looking for work in the state, giving Utah one of the higher lawyers per capita rates in the US.

    So does a similar dynamic work on BYU undergrad students?

  12. Jax
    November 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    giving Utah one of the higher lawyers per capita rates in the US.

    I’ll add this to my list of reasons I’m glad I moved away!

  13. Janell
    November 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    I agree with Raymond that seeing statistics describing where students go after they graduate would be interesting, and for bonus I’d like to know where they are 12 months later and then where they are 5 years later. (Simply because I’ve seen entirely too many spouses freak about not living down the street from their parents and demand that a return to wherever they came from. That is, what percentage move away from their home state yet return to it within 5 years?)

    An interesting comparison is the statistics of UVU. Based on the numbers, I think it’s reputation for being the place to go when one isn’t accepted to BYU is inaccurately attributed where out-of-state students are concerned.

  14. dangermom
    November 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    As a Californian, my experience has been that families are moving out of state, but that more of the kids who do live here are going straight to BYU. When I went to college, not that many of my peers were heading to BYU (some did, and this may also be a result of the city I lived in, where few went to college at all), but in my current ward, almost no one goes anywhere else. Rising tuition costs, a more blatant hookup culture at state schools, and relatively few LDS people to date sends nearly everyone to one of the BYU campuses, unless they stay home and go to CC or beauty school, etc.

    Idaho vs. Provo seems to be a function of the kid’s personality; the studious ones go to Provo, and the less-studious go to Idaho. I can just about tell you which kids are going to go where when they start high school.

    I’m a 3rd-generation UC loyalist, but I’m planning to send my girls to Provo, though a little reluctantly. Their chances of getting into our alma mater are slimmer than ever and anyway the tuition is insane. BYU is a screaming deal compared to any UC or CSU these days.

  15. wondering
    November 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Interesting observation, dangermom.

    Another likely factor: it’s the families with lots of kids who tend to move away.

    Taking all the factors into account, I expect the number of middle-class, culturally-Mormon teenagers living in California has dropped sharply over the last couple of decades. So much that the overall number of California kids at BYU has gone down by 30% or so, even though dangermom might be right that the share who go to BYU is higher than ever.

  16. Yeechang Lee
    November 1, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    BYU is a screaming deal compared to any UC or CSU these days.

    Times have changed; my understanding is that 20 years ago Berkeley was cheaper to attend for an in-state student than BYU.

  17. MC
    November 1, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    In Alaska it seems that all the active Mormon kids go to either of the BYUs if they can get in.

  18. el oso
    November 1, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I have known several students apply to UC schools and BYU and get accepted everywhere except BYU. The fact that BYU is a screaming deal has really raised the amount of rejections they send out. I do not remember if any of them had applied to Berkeley in particular.

    I also have lots of relatives who grew up in CA, went to BYU, and then moved somewhere else. Almost none of the younger college grads can afford a good lifestyle in CA.

    I have noticed that Virginia is consistently the highest in the east. It an Georgia both have more students a BYU than Florida.

  19. Naismith
    November 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    One thing to keep in mind is that the numbers likely include only those who are admitted to BYU, not all who attend.

    Say what? Well, my kids have zero interest in attending BYU fulltime. They would much rather go to one of three universities within a 2-hour radius of home. They were freaked out by a trip to Idaho and meeting cousins who didn’t have any non-member friends, among other things.

    But they have gone out to BYU for a summer session, which gives them a taste of what the campus is like, and lends their uniqueness to the campus. BYU makes it very easy; if you are a full-time student at another institution, you are welcome for the summer.

    One son fell in love with someone out there, and he ended up transferring and graduating from BYU. One daughter who now works for the state department lived in the French language residence at BYU, where she first learned that she could speak another language all the time, and fake Italian if she had to; she enjoyed her volunteering at the MTC there (she ended up serving in an area with a satellite MTC at which she later had a calling, so seeing how things worked at the mothership was a plus).

    And we’ll probably have a few more out there in summers to come. But auslanders don’t count if they aren’t there for the entire year.

  20. dangermom
    November 1, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    “Times have changed; my understanding is that 20 years ago Berkeley was cheaper to attend for an in-state student than BYU.”

    Yeechang, it probably was. But fees started rising steeply in the early-mid 90’s and haven’t quit going up. You can see here that it is now $7200 per semester and is slated to rise quite a lot more in the near future. The cost of living in Berkeley is also very high, much higher than in Provo or Idaho.

    I do not doubt your words, el oso.

  21. November 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Looking at Southern Virginia, I found it interesting that SVU has more students from Utah than from Virginia!

  22. Bradley
    November 1, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    “Where do BYU students come from?”

    If you ask U of U students (especially during football season) you might get “The pitts of hell”.

  23. November 2, 2011 at 8:28 am

    As a BYU-Idaho Alum of 2009, I’d say those numbers were pretty accurate for my experience. Idaho, Utah, California and Washington seemed to be the most represented. I think, like jks said (#10), BYU-Idaho’s problem is going to be the lack of major programs. Many of your “usual” programs can be found, but, for example, languages (specifically, Korean) were suffering greatly.

    Another interesting thing was both the decrease in in-state incoming freshman to BYU-Idaho (down 3.1 percent from 2006-2010) while BYU-Provo had an increase in in-state incoming freshman (11.8 percent from 2006-2010). I know BYU-Idaho seems to have been a hub for out-of-state students, but I again agree with #10 – Growing up in Michigan, we always had the knowledge that we had more of a chance of getting into BYU Provo simply for the fact that many in Utah had different universities that could provide a similar experience just from the sheer number of LDS people living in Utah, whereas us, outside of Utah, would only have BYU as an opportunity to experience what its like to be around a large contingency of like-minded people.

  24. John Taber
    November 2, 2011 at 8:39 am

    I don’t know about the current representation, but my sophomore year (1991-92) the Student Review printed a list of enrollment by state. I then compared that to the membership figures by state in the Church Almanac. I was (slightly) surprised to see that my home state (Delaware) was the best-represented state at BYU. My recollection is that Utah and California by their sheer volume defined the average, and that while the Northeast was overrepresented (District of Columbia was #2), the Midwest and South were underrepresented.

  25. November 2, 2011 at 9:42 am

    “Where do BYU students come from?”

    Well, when a mommy BYU student and a daddy BYU student love each other very much…

  26. TonyF
    November 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

    @Travis. :D I think you’ve pretty much hit it on the head. Especially when those parents make frequent pilgrimages to Utah afterward. I birthed my daughter on BYU campus just to make absolutely certain.

  27. Sam Brunson
    November 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Wait, what’s with 1998? The number of freshman from California spikes, and the number of students from several other states, including Nevada and Washington, hits what appears to be an unusually high number that year, too. New York, Montana, and Wyoming had highs in that year, too. Did BYU have a larger-than-normal entering class that year?

  28. wowbagger
    November 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    As a despicable foreigner and BYU alum, I can tell you where the BYU students are not coming from.


    The good folks running my alma mater have made the decision, since the world is their campus, to impose this $4000 fee on those coming from outside the US. This may seem like a small amount to many Americans, but it will significantly drop the number of foreign students who will be able to attend this BYU.

    Most Canadians I know have long given up on attending BYU, recognizing that it is not targeting them or the 1/2 of the LDS members who live outside the USA.

    I understand that the US members pay more in tuition than these other members, but it seems like the time has come for the church to decide if it wishes to continue its polices of differential treatment of its members. My money is on the church saying the perpetual education fund serves those overseas, and BYU within the US.

    A quick check in the Canadian Revenue Agency database shows that the LDS church funneled at least $40 million from Canada to BYU in 2009.

    Glad we are able to subsidize your education!

  29. wowbagger
    November 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm


    I meant to write “US members pay more tithing” instead of “US members pay more tuition” above

    with infinitely prolonged embarrassment


  30. Cameron N.
    November 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I think it’s almost impossible to get into BYU if you are from Utah.

  31. Tim
    November 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    wowbagger–the $4000 is a deposit, fully returnable upon graduation (much of it fully returnable before graduation). I agree that I don’t see the sense in it, except perhaps to acknowledge the reality that foreign students may have a harder time finding financial aid or work while at BYU.

    One of my biggest regrets is not applying to USU and U of U. As a Utah native, I would’ve gotten in-state tuition, and probably better scholarships, at state schools. That being said, I know plenty of people from Utah, including myself, who got into BYU straight out of high school. And if ACT or SAT scores aren’t good enough, go to a community college for two years, get good grades, and BYU will be within reach. Even if you’re from Utah.

  32. Ray
    November 3, 2011 at 7:41 am

    They come from a U.S. church that propagandizes them from the time they are in Primary that attending BYU is equivalent to going on a mission or attending the temple.

  33. rbc
    November 3, 2011 at 10:00 am

    @32, propogandizes is a charitable way to describe how BYU alums behave in Church. Last year our son was applying to schools and the comments and looks he got when he said he wasn’t interested in going to BYU were pretty funny. (I suppose to some looking to take offense, the comments could be considered offensive or at least irritating but the BYU boosters meant well.) My son grew tired of defending his choices and started telling people he might apply to BYU as a safety school. What he learned was the only thing worse than telling the legions of well-meaning BYU grad youth, ward and stake leaders he wasn’t interested in attending BYU at all was telling them he viewed it as a safety school, but I think he knew what he was doing. He ended up at USC (Southern Cal) but as the person paying USC-even after generous scholarships-BYU is not a bad alternative, imo. While USC is a much better school than BYU I am far from persuaded it is 10X better (difference in tuition). Maybe a mission will change his mind and BYU can add another east coast freshman in a couple of years.

  34. Bob
    November 3, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I was pushed hard to go to BYU while on my Mission.
    Everyone said I would be married in 6 mo. I ran as fast as I could from that idea.
    My son went to Cal, P/Grad at UCS. UC Merced is considered a good safety school in California.

  35. Bob
    November 3, 2011 at 11:38 am


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