Top-ranked universities are requiring students to be vaccinated, but politics are still influencing … [+]
As we head into August, the month when many U.S. colleges begin welcoming students back to campus, the number of leading universities imposing Covid-19 vaccination mandates for students has soared. In fact, every one of the institutions ranked among the top 25 universities in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report is requiring students to be vaccinated (At one school – the University of Michigan – the mandate applies only to residential students).
An up-to-date tracker of colleges and universities requiring students and/or employees to be vaccinated is being maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It can be found here.
According to the Chronicle, as of July 29, 619 institutions were requiring vaccinations for at least their residential students. Included on the list are those schools that have indicated their mandate depends on full approval of one or more vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The vaccine mandates typically include exemptions for religious or health reasons, and some colleges have added ethical exemptions. In addition, not all highly ranked universities have mandated vaccinations for their faculty and staff. Five of the top 25 U.S News universities – California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, Cornell University and the University of Michigan – do not require vaccinations for employees.
Reflecting the degree to which vaccine mandates have become a politically partisan issue, the Chronicle’s tracker also indicates whether the states in which institutions requiring vaccinations are located voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
No surprise here – politics matter. A lot. Of the more than 600 colleges now requiring vaccinations, 90% are in states that voted for Biden. And the majority are private institutions, less subject to the executive orders, statutory provisions, and carrot and stick of appropriations that governors and legislators bring to bear when they want to influence an institution’s stance.
The political map helps explain why so many leading public universities have shied away from vaccine mandates, preferring instead to try to entice their students to get vaccinated using lotteries, prizes, and other incentives.
Take the Big 10, where all of the member universities are public except for Northwestern. Of those 13 public universities, only five have adopted a vaccine mandate – the Universities of Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan, Indiana University and Rutgers University. (Update: After this article was posted, Michigan State University announced it would be mandating vaccines for students and employees.)
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) offers even a starker example. With the exception of Georgia, all of its 13 institutions are located in states that voted for Donald Trump in the last election. Other than Vanderbilt University, a top-25 private school, not a single SEC university has introduced a vaccine mandate for students. Many of the SEC states are experiencing some of the nation’s highest increase in Covid-19 cases.
With a fourth wave of Covid-19 infection now sweeping across much of the country, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant primarily among the unvaccinated, college campuses will soon encounter a test of their coronavirus vaccination policies. And that test will come on the heels of President Biden announcing vaccine requirements for federal workers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing new guidance that even fully vaccinated people should wear a mask when in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high transmission.
Will vaccine mandates keep students away or help reassure them that campus life will again be safe? Will incentives prove sufficient to reach adequate levels of immunity or leave campuses vulnerable to new outbreaks of disease? Will conservative politicians continue to threaten institutions that want vaccination mandates? The answers to those questions loom large – not only for America’s colleges but for the nation overall.