Three months after many of their four-year higher education counterparts announced COVID-19 vaccination requirements for the fall, most Washington state community and technical colleges are swiftly putting vaccine mandates in place.
More than 25 of the state’s 34 community and technical colleges will require vaccines come September, state officials said.
In a proclamation issued July 1, Gov. Jay Inslee encouraged institutions of higher education to have a “fully vaccinated population” in order to offer in-person classes and gatherings. Colleges that don’t institute mandates will have to follow a lengthy set of health and safety rules.
Although the proclamation identifies schools with vaccine mandates as “fully vaccinated,” students, faculty and staff may still opt out by claiming a medical, religious or philosophical reason for not getting the vaccine.
Washington has 34 community and technical colleges, which served about 180,000 students during the winter quarter of 2020-21. About 70% of students who were enrolled in the winter quarter attended schools that now mandate vaccines.
Highline College President John Mosby announced on Wednesday the institution’s mandate to have everyone vaccinated by Sept. 27, the start of the fall quarter.
“We don’t make this decision lightly,” Mosby said in his campus message. “In lieu of the challenges we are faced with during the COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to moving our campus toward our new normal.”
Josh Gerstman, Highline’s vice president for institutional advancement, said these announcements are being made later than those of the four-year universities and colleges because community and technical colleges have open enrollment and later starts for their programs. Procedures for vaccine attestation and verification are still being finalized by Highline leadership.
Gerstman said the college is working with its labor units to negotiate details for employees. At other colleges, those union negotiations are also ongoing, said a spokesperson for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
“We can’t just 180 and say everything’s fine,” Gerstman said. “Vaccines will help create that level of confidence and comfort to return to activities on campus. We want to get back to where we’re in full service and fully in-person again.”
Seattle Colleges announced earlier this month that its three campuses — Central, North and South — would require vaccinations. In an emailed message to employees and students, college officials said: “It is the fastest way to return to in-person teaching and learning as it eliminates the requirement for social distancing while offering protection of everyone’s health and safety.”
Even with the decision to require vaccines, many community and technical colleges are phasing in on-campus instruction.
For example, only about 25% of Highline’s courses will take place in person at the start of the quarter, with the goal of 50% of courses being taught in person by winter. Currently, if a student is not fully vaccinated by the start of the term, that student will have to file an exemption and wear a mask indoors.
Bellevue announced Friday that 50 students who were eligible each received a scholarship of either $250 or $400 for the fall quarter. To spur the unvaccinated, the Bellevue College Foundation dangled the $400 for students to get a first shot between July 1 and 22.
A total of 12 vaccination incentive scholarships in the amount of $2,500 each are being awarded to eligible students attending Seattle Colleges. The students were selected this month by random drawing.
To help students and the surrounding community get vaccinated by the fall, Highline College has partnered with 6M Geriatrics and King County Public Health to offer the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on campus from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every Monday in August.
The Highline College Foundation will award up to five scholarships worth $500 each for students who get the shot during the clinics. The first 250 students to be vaccinated will be eligible for the random drawing.
And all people who get vaccinated during this month’s Highline clinics will get a pair of socks commemorating the college’s 60th anniversary.
The socks feature the college’s new look for its Thunderbird logo, designed by Nooksack artist Louie Gong of the Snoqualmie Tribe-owned company Eighth Generation. The socks were supposed to be given out during graduation to kick off the anniversary, but the ceremony was held virtually this spring.