Mask mandates are ending, vaccinations are at a steady uptick, and life is returning to normal. But will colleges require students and faculty to be vaccinated before returning to campus? People that are at least 12 years old are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but what happens if college students and staff aren’t? Here’s what you need to know before the fall semester begins.
College was unlike any other year when the world shut down. Many campuses closed dorms and did remote learning out of an abundance of caution and safety.
If you’re a college student for the upcoming semester, it’s important to know your campus’s vaccination policy before registering for in-person classes or on-campus living. And if you choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, ask about remote learning classes and activities if you’d like to stay enrolled for the semester.
The latest on vaccinations
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.8% of those ages 18-24 are fully vaccinated, and 46% have received at least one dose. The numbers have been on a steady uptick since Dec. 2020, but the number of vaccinations are declining despite a new infectious variant of COVID-19. States are offering money, prizes, and lotteries, but it’s not enough to persuade adults who are hesitant about the vaccine’s safety. President Joe Biden is hopeful of reaching herd immunity, with 70% of the country having at least one dose of the vaccine. The United States is currently at 65% and expected to fall short of the goal.
Arizona’s recent executive order
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order prohibiting Arizona colleges and universities from requiring students to submit proof that they’ve been vaccinated from COVID-19 before returning to campus. The order also doesn’t require students to have a COVID-19 test or wear a mask on campus. A test will only be required if the college has a significant outbreak and the Arizona Department of Health Services recommends it. The only exception is for students that may require proof of vaccination if working at a hospital, clinic, or other facilities that require verification.
The order comes after Arizona State University recommended students and faculty to be vaccinated and provide proof of immunity. Those not vaccinated would be required to submit daily health checks, get tested twice a week, and wear a mask on campus. But Ducey’s order prohibits any of the university’s rules. The university plans to comply with the order and mentioned that their message to students and faculty was not a vaccine mandate but what to expect in the upcoming semester.
Colleges requiring the vaccine
The Chronicle is keeping a live track of colleges that will require the vaccine for employees and students, and the list is growing quickly. The list includes some of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Brown University. Like Cornell and Howard, many schools are requiring students to be fully vaccinated, but not employees. Some colleges are leaving it up to the students. And some schools are only requiring students living on campus to be vaccinated. Ultimately, the decision is based on the school unless an executive order says otherwise.
There are a few exceptions for students and faculty. Rutgers and Cornell staff and students can be exempt for medical or religious reasons. And those at Rutgers are exempt from the vaccine mandate if they choose remote classes.
As of now, the courts have yet to say whether or not the college vaccine mandates are legal. It’s likely that as the school year nears, more cases and court rulings will give a better answer for colleges. It’s also unclear of consequences or what will happen if a student or employee returns to a vaccine-mandated campus without being fully vaccinated.
What to know before you go
If you’re employed or attending a college this fall, it’s important to know the vaccination policy. Here are a few questions to ask ahead of time to be prepared — whether you’re vaccinated or not.
- Is the COVID-19 vaccine required for enrollment?
- Will the vaccine be required for those who choose remote learning or only for in-person classes?
- Will a mask mandate be enforced for those choosing not to be vaccinated?
- What are the consequences or penalties for those not fully vaccinated?
- Will masks be required in certain circumstances despite being fully vaccinated?
- Will social distancing and limited gatherings be enforced even though state restrictions are lifted?
- What happens if students become sick or there’s a COVID-19 outbreak?
We don’t have a clear-cut “right or wrong” answer for whether or not college students should be vaccinated. Instead, we encourage students and their parents to ask the right questions to make an informed decision about the school year ahead. Remember that if you choose not to get vaccinated at a vaccine-mandated school, the school may prohibit you from participating in in-person classes and activities. If you can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine because of health or religious reasons, talk to your school’s administrator or counselor for further guidance.