Chicago — From requiring vaccines and testing to offering gift cards, tuition and sports game passes, colleges have been exploring ways to address their populations of unvaccinated students.
Many schools are kicking off the semester with mandated vaccinations and other requirements. About 700 schools have vaccine requirements for both students and employees.
The measures are being implemented as students return to the classroom amid the fall semester and a nationwide surge of the delta variant of COVID-19 cases.
Students and employees in Illinois will be required to be vaccinated, the governor announced last month. They must receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by Sept. 5. Northern Illinois University in DeKalb required vaccines before the governor's announcement.
“We know you want to resume activities that enhance your personal, academic and professional growth, and we share this aspiration,” according to a statement by NIU spokesperson Joe King. “Throughout the pandemic, the university has been closely monitoring evolving scientific evidence and public health guidance, and we recognize now that the most effective way for our campus community to accomplish (its) goals is through COVID-19 vaccination.”
The University of Michigan announced in July that all students, faculty and staff on its three campuses are required to be vaccinated and must submit their vaccination information before the start of the fall term. The requirement also applies to those working or learning remotely.
“Widespread vaccination is the primary and most effective tool that will bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control and it is the key to a vibrant and engaging academic year,” according to the university’s statement.
Earlier this year, Bowie State University in Maryland announced that all students, faculty and staff coming to campus must be fully vaccinated by the first day of class on Aug. 30. Since then, a 30-day extension has been granted. Also, additional online class options are being provided to offer more time to meet the requirement, according to Cassandra Robinson, director of university relations and marketing. She said vaccinated people will be tested once a month. BSU members who are granted exemptions from the vaccine requirement must be tested twice a week.
“The combination of a high percentage of vaccinated individuals on campus and a regular testing regimen are critical components of our efforts to reduce the threat of significant spread of the disease within our campus community,” Robinson said.
At Philander Smith College in Arkansas, all students had to show proof of being vaccinated before coming back to campus on Aug. 16, according to Olivia Goodheart, director of public relations and marketing. Students exempt from the vaccine requirement are being tested on a weekly basis. The college has also reserved some dorm rooms in the event that students test positive and have to quarantine.
“The (isolated student) will still have their meals delivered to them so they won’t have to come to the cafeteria and they’ll keep in touch with their instructors to stay up to date with their assignments,” Goodheart said.
In order for students to move into the resident halls at Central State University in Ohio, they had to take a COVID-19 test unless they provided proof of vaccination, according to Karen Matthews, executive director of Health and Psychological Services.
“That was an incentive because most students don’t want a nasal swab,” Matthews said, noting students who were tested 72 hours prior to move-in day and provided negative results also didn’t have to be tested on move-in day.
“Unexpectedly we saw a lot more students come to campus with a vaccine card. We had anticipated maybe about 25 to 30% of students would be vaccinated but during the last two days of move-in it appeared that 50% of our students were showing vaccination cards,” she said.
Schools in Las Vegas must require COVID-19 vaccine mandates for enrollment after Nov. 1, according to a press release from Gov. Steve Sisolak. Students must provide proof of a vaccination in order to enroll for the Spring 2022 semester. Students who don’t attend class on campus are exempt from the requirement.
Some schools aren’t requiring the vaccine because their respective states aren’t. That includes schools in Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Arizona.
Others are trying to encourage students to get vaccinated through incentives.
That includes Southern A&M in Louisiana. Though the university announced a vaccine requirement for students to enroll in the spring semester, it’s also been encouraging them to get vaccinated through Louisiana’s Shot for 100 program. That program offers $100 gift cards to students who show proof of vaccination.
Auburn University in Alabama created a program for fully vaccinated students to receive raffle prizes, including a chance at free in-state tuition for a semester. Seminole State College in Florida is offering $250 to current employees and students who show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated
Students at the University of Kentucky can win tuition and education abroad scholarships, season football and basketball games passes and festival tickets if they get vaccinated and submit an entry form for a prize.
“Vaccines remain our best defense against this virus,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in a news release. “We want to reach — and exceed — an 80% vaccination rate among our university community. That’s another crucial component of our promise to make it easy to be safe on the University of Kentucky campus. We hope these incentives help us reach this important goal.”