Most colleges, universities will encourage -- not require -- COVID-19 vaccines for fall semester
Most Illinois colleges and universities are encouraging students to get vaccinated before returning to campuses this fall, but officials say they won't make it mandatory.
Young people are driving the increase in COVID-19 cases statewide. Infections among 18- to 24-year-olds doubled within the past month, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
State health authorities conducted "College Vaccination Days" this week to urge students attending community colleges and public and private universities to get their shots at mass vaccination sites before the spring semester is out.
Yet the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education won't mandate vaccines for students.
"That's going to be a local college decision," said Matt Berry, Illinois Community College Board spokesman.
Melissa Hahn, spokeswoman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said the board is not issuing guidance mandating vaccines "but encourages continued use of face coverings, frequent hand-washing, and maintaining social distance."
Community colleges in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties are not requiring students to be vaccinated but will continue COVID screening and other safety measures. In Chicago, DePaul University and Columbia College are mandating students be vaccinated for fall, bucking the trend.
Most community colleges aren't expecting a majority of students to return for in-person classes this fall and will offer a mix of online and hybrid options, as well.
"It's too early to get a sense for what percentage of students will be on campus," said Kim Pohl, spokeswoman for Harper College in Palatine. "We're expanding our on-campus presence beyond lab classes to include some lecture-style classes."
Harper students will have three attendance choices -- a hybrid on-campus and online option, plus fully online classes taught live and asynchronously. Registration for fall classes opened Monday.
At Elgin Community College, roughly 49% of fall classes will include some level of on-campus instruction -- up from 34% this spring. Most classes will be taught online in live or asynchronous formats. Fall registration will start May 3.
"Strict safety measures remain in place for anyone coming to campus, including required face coverings and maintaining social distancing," spokeswoman Rita Elliott said. "ECC is anxious to welcome students back to campus and return in-person instruction to pre-pandemic levels as soon as this can be done safely."
Officials at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn have discussed mandating vaccination but don't plan to require it at this time. Roughly 30% of COD's courses will be taught fully in-person or in a hybrid format.
"Appropriate screening will be in place for all visitors to campus," President Brian Caputo said in a statement. "Social distancing, masks and other protocols will be followed per state and national guidelines, and regular deep cleaning will occur."
The College of Lake County, McHenry County College, Oakton Community College, and Waubonsee Community College also will provide a mix of online live and asynchronous, hybrid and fully in-person classes this fall.
Oakton and Harper are partnering with SHIELD Illinois to provide free rapid COVID-19 tests to students, employees and community members. They are the only college-based covidSHIELD community testing sites in the suburbs.
State and private universities with on-campus housing also are grappling with the issue of vaccinating students, though none require it at present. That includes Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"We are, however, strongly urging them to do so and we are providing an opportunity for (students) to get their first dose of vaccine on campus this week," said Joe King, NIU's associate director of institutional communications. "Students who cannot provide proof of vaccination in the fall will be required to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing, while those who are vaccinated will be exempt."
Roughly 70% of NIU's classes will be held in person this fall.
Elmhurst University and Judson University in Elgin, both private schools, have been operating at higher in-person capacity than most suburban colleges, and this fall will be more typical.
"Judson will not require vaccinations as this is a personal decision for students, faculty and staff," spokeswoman Mary Dulabaum said. "We believe our community has done an excellent job of maintaining our safety protocols, which includes asking individuals who do not feel well to self-quarantine and to follow testing and tracing protocols."
Classes at Elmhurst also will be mostly in person with expanded online and hybrid options for students who need it. "As for testing, we'll continue to offer it, but what that will look like in the fall remains to be seen," spokeswoman Desiree Chen said.