By Chris Major
Texas colleges faced a new hurdle in student enrollment this spring.
A new state law requiring incoming students under 30 to receive a bacterial meningitis vaccination caused many students to put off their education, said Dr. Robert Austin, vice president of student affairs.
“The big challenge is the cost of this vaccination,” Austin said. “A lot of students had money set aside thinking they needed about $1,000 and now they have to pay another $150, which isn’t covered by financial aid.”
Over 11,000 academic students enrolled in the fall and Austin said a small drop off of 1 to 2 percent from last spring was expected this semester. Preliminary enrollment numbers show a decrease in enrollment of about 5 percent.
“We had a difficult time getting the word out about the vaccine,” Austin said. “We sent letters, emails and put up fliers to let students know, but we think some students just decided to put off dealing with it. It also challenged us because we have a system set up so that if someone wanted to come in, register and do everything they needed to at once, they could. The vaccine messed with that since we don’t have a health center on campus.”
According to Austin, about 58 percent of all applicants enroll for classes. This spring, only about 42 percent of applicants registered.
John Brooks applied, but put off going to school this semester due to the required vaccine.
“I just didn’t have the money for it,” Brooks said. “It’s like adding another book to the list of things you have to pay for.”
Although enrollment is down, Austin said retention rates, or the number of students returning from last semester, is expected to be up. He said they are looking at several options to make next semester’s transition smoother.
“We have a few ideas we are looking over,” Austin said. “Nothing is in place yet.”
Crystal Murphy, radiography major, said she wished the school had found a way to make it the vaccine less expensive for students.
“It was a lot to pay,” Murphy said. “On top of everything else it was a lot to ask of new students.”
Austin said it is important to get students to enroll and not delay going to college.
“There’s always opportunities for students to put off college, especially in a place with a community college,” Austin said. “Once they put it off, they just delay it semester after semester. We need people to get a higher education, earn a degree or receive skill training so they can go out into the work force.”