The Delta variant is sweeping across the country, and the largest rise in COVID-19 positive cases is occurring in one area in the Midwest: Springfield, Missouri.
That is the home of Missouri State University, an institution with a total enrollment of more than 30,000 students. According to data from Greene County, less than 20% of those under age 30 are fully vaccinated and those numbers are lower for those in the 11-20 group. In the state, just 25% of the 15-24 group have completed their doses. Positive COVID cases have spiked to their highest levels since January.
Those data combined with the desire to cut costs and reopen fully for the fall semester have forced college leaders to get creative, especially those not mandating vaccines. Many are offering incentives, but few are as lucrative and expansive as Missouri State.
For example, students who get vaccinated could win tuition for a year, plus free housing, an unlimited meal plan, books, supplies and parking. Two separate prizes include a semester of free tuition and fees, and another is for free parking for a year.
The first 2,000 that simply get registered and receive vaccines at the Magers Health and Wellness Center will get gift cards: $10 for the first dose of Pfizer/Moderna, $15 for the second dose of Pfizer/Moderna and $25 for the single dose of Johnson & Johnson. Some of the prizes are also open to parents who wish to get vaccinated. The weekly giveaways stretch from July through September.
“We were very strategic in how we crafted this program,” says David Hall, Missouri State Director of Campus Safety. “This incentivizes getting vaccinated early rather than delaying. Some of the prizes will appeal to students while others may appeal to parents. The entire point is to get the campus back to more normal operations this fall. We recognize the strength of the opinions regarding vaccinations. Rather than requiring students to be vaccinated, or doing nothing, we felt we could encourage more students to get vaccinated by using incentives.”
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Missouri State is also giving away 11 more grand prizes—from two year-long meal plans to two free housing semesters, as well as a chance to win four separate $4,500 “Bookstore Bonanzas” that include Macbook and iPad Pros, Nintendo Switches, Microsoft Surface and Dell Inspiron devices, Xboxes, AirPods, an MSI gaming laptop, AppleCare+ and Xbox Live memberships and accessories. One package includes a $500 bookstore shopping spree.
In addition to protecting its community, Missouri State hopes the giveaways and vaccines will lead to a significant cost savings. Last year, it spent more than $1 million to test students and lost more than $500,000 in housing for students who had to be quarantined and residence spaces that could not be filled. “Purely from an economic perspective, this is a good move,” Hall says. “The more students we can get vaccinated, the less we have to spend in these areas.”