Ohio University’s COVID-19 dashboard provides coronavirus updates, including vaccination rates and positive cases. Other colleges and universities in Ohio have similar methods of COVID-19 reporting, yet some don’t report at all.
At the beginning of the Fall Semester, OU, along with several institutions of higher education, issued COVID-19 vaccine mandates. OU students, faculty and staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15.
Like OU, Bowling Green State University, Kenyon College, Mount Saint Joseph University, Case Western Reserve University and Oberlin College use the dashboard method of reporting COVID-19 information, but others don’t know the number of vaccinations among their campus population. Cristine Boyd, senior director of external communications for the University of Akron, said in an email the university’s COVID-19 response team has “not yet assembled a progress report” on campus vaccination data.
Some colleges don’t require the vaccine at all. Seth Bauguess, director of the office of communications at Wright State University, or WSU, said the university doesn’t require the vaccine because its student population does not have as many positive coronavirus cases as other colleges. Additionally, Bauguess said almost 75% of the 4,000+ students and employees who participated in a fall survey were vaccinated.
Youngstown State University, or YSU, is another college that does not mandate a COVID-19 vaccine. Shannon Tirone, associate vice president for university relations at YSU, said the university is still assessing the situation.
“(We are) watching numbers, talking to constituents across campus, and if (we) need to pivot and do something different or move in a different direction ... we would definitely do so,” Tirone said.
Dan Skinner, an associate professor of health policy in OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, explained how Ohio’s regional and cultural diversity affects an area’s vaccination rate.
Skinner said factors like religion or socioeconomic status can affect vaccination rates. Additionally, vaccination rates vary because of the ways information spreads locally.
In April, Cleveland State University, or CSU, required all students living on campus during the Fall Semester to get vaccinated. It was the first public university in Ohio to announce a vaccine mandate. However, on Sept. 3, CSU revoked its vaccine mandate. Forrest Faison, CSU’s chief of health strategy, announced in a video the university would reevaluate its vaccine policies Oct. 19.
“(Cleveland State) is a largely commuter school, so it’s a very different dynamic … You can’t really put that up against OU with its residential culture or OSU with its residential culture,” Skinner said. “I think that’s one important thing to note is that the context of the school is going to matter a lot.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Aug. 23. The next day, the Ohio House Health Committee held a hearing for a bill that sought to ban all vaccine mandates in the state.
“Ohio’s public schools are really afraid of the legislature. I think that’s the story,” Skinner said. “Each school is differently afraid of the legislature. They have different stakes. That’s one of the reasons why OU clearly waited for OSU to make the move.”
Ohio State University, or OSU, mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for its students, staff and faculty Aug. 24. Miami University and OU released statements Aug. 31 requiring their campus communities to get vaccinated.
“Once OSU made a move, that provides cover … or establishes a new norm,” Skinner said. “But the state legislature, as currently composed, holds a lot of power, even though Ohio’s public schools are not getting a ton of money from the state anymore because we’re a pretty underfunded state.”
Skinner said as soon as OSU mandated the vaccine, the decision provided cover for other universities and colleges to do the same. Despite that precedent, the state legislature still controls how much funding each school receives, which gives the legislature power to “mess with” Ohio’s public colleges if it wants to, Skinner said.
“A lot of people in the state legislature know OSU. They cheer for OSU … It is one of the largest employers in central Ohio,” Skinner said. “Institutions with a lot of power are going to give people pause in taking them on. But also, those institutions, when they do act, tend to act very intentionally because they understand their position within the state.”
College leadership across Ohio has pivoted its coronavirus guidelines several times during 2020 and 2021. Skinner believes the institutions are more concerned about doing the right thing than the state legislature.
“They’ve been dealt a terrible hand, and they’re playing it the best they can,” Skinner said.
Antioch College, the University of Cincinnati, the Columbus College of Art and Design, Denison University, Kent State University, the College of Wooster, the University of Toledo and Xavier University did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.