Golden Ticket: Purdue pitches ‘free tuition’ for vaccines

In an effort to boost vaccination numbers on campus, the university is giving away the equivalent of one year of education.
By: | May 28, 2021

“I’m very pleased to hear that because I’m giving it to you.” – Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Short of trying to enforce a COVID-19 vaccination mandate, Purdue University has turned to a Wonka-style competition to entice students to register for protective and preventive shots, which includes a chance to unwrap something perhaps life-changing.

Among those who fully complete doses, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive “Old Golden Tickets”, which can be redeemed for something more sweet than all the chocolate they can eat: the equivalent of free tuition for one year to the university. Their value would make even Grandpa Joe and Grandma Georgina smile: $9,992 (which Purdue noted has been the cost of tuition since 2013).

The contest is open to all current students and those who have been accepted for the 2021 fall semester at its West Lafayette campus only. There is a catch in the long list of terms and conditions (“et cetera, et cetera”): students must have completed their vaccine doses and submit proof by July 15. Winners will be chosen on July 29. Purdue officials noted that anyone trying to deceive the university by sending in falsified card information will be subject to “severe disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion.” In other words, “you lose!”

For those who do follow through, Purdue believes all vaccine recipients will be winners in some fashion.

“Vaccination has been proven to be the fastest and surest means to significantly reduce the risk of exposure and serious illness,” said Dr. Esteban Ramirez, chief medical officer of the Protect Purdue Health Center told Purdue University’s news service. “Vaccination is also an expression of the Protect Purdue Pledge to protect ourselves and others. We hope everyone at Purdue takes these facts to heart and chooses to get vaccinated – and uploads verification of their vaccination.”

Encouraging vaccines, those getting them

Purdue noted that most of the 20,000 vaccinations it has done on its campus since April have been for students, though that still leaves 30,000 or who have either gotten them on their own or haven’t yet signed up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control data, only 31% of those nationwide in the 18-24-year-old age bracket have completed their vaccinations (42.5% have received first doses). There has been a spike in those 16-17 who have been fully vaccinated (23.2%), despite having just one vaccine (Pfizer) and very recent approval for emergency use authorization. Those 18-24 have had more than a month to schedule and complete vaccines in most states.

Purdue is hoping the Golden Tickets will push those on the fence to get vaccinated soon. There is as much at stake for the university – including further reopening of campus in the fall and protecting its community – as there is for students. For example, those who have not been vaccinated by the start of the school year likely will see reduced inclusion in activities on campus as well as being subject to regular COVID-19 testing

“We have strongly encouraged everyone in our campus community to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ramirez said. “The more people who choose to get vaccinated and register their status, the more decisions we can make and the more normal our operations can be in the days, weeks and months ahead. Purdue’s Old Golden Ticket Drawing is another way to encourage students to consider taking that important step to protect themselves, others, and help Purdue return to the normalcy that we all desire.”

Purdue said it will accept six vaccines that have been approved by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, and it continues to offer Pfizer vaccines at its COVID-19 clinics to students and those in the community through its recreation center.

Purdue is not the first university to offer incentives around COVID-19 vaccination, although it is the first to use the clever Golden Ticket strategy. Eastern Washington University, for example, has pitched to students the chance to win an iPad Pro, Adidas gear, parking passes, football tickets and both a single-term free tuition incentive and a full-tuition-for-a-year waiver. The University of Lethbridge in Canada is offering nine full-tuition scholarships. Rowan University in New Jersey has offered a $1,000 reduction in tuition and housing to students who get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, states are also pushing students 12-17 to get vaccines. New York recently announced it is giving away 50 full-ride scholarships for students who sign up. Ohio and Delaware are offering similar, but scaled-down numbers of scholarships for those age groups, with Ohio announcing its first of five winners this week, a 14-year-old freshman.