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Maryland HBCUs Lag Behind Other State Universities In Vaccinations

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At Bowie State University, 66% of students are vaccinated, according to date published by the school. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Most of the 12 schools in the University System of Maryland have high compliance rates with the system’s vaccine mandate, but the system’s three historically Black colleges and universities lag behind, a university administrator told state lawmakers Thursday.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, 97.7% of students, faculty and staff are vaccinated or have an approved exemption, according to data released by the school.

“What that means is among students, fewer than 300 are out of compliance, and that's fewer than 300 out of over 39,000 students,” Joann Boughman, University System of Maryland senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, told members of two state legislative committees Thursday. “And a large portion of those 300 are actually international students who have arrived and are in the vaccination process.”

However, compliance rates at the system’s three HBCUs range from the high 60s to about 86% at Coppin State University, Boughman said.

Data shows, for example, that at Bowie State University, 92% of staff, 88% of faculty and 66% of students are vaccinated.

“We know there's not only vaccine hesitancy in some of our populations and communities, but real challenges in terms of access for some people over the summer,” Boughman said.

She said those schools have on-campus vaccine clinics and are working to build confidence in the vaccines through messaging.

“We have some new employees that were not anticipating being employees so they have not completed their vaccination process,” Boughman said, explaining some of the lag. “Plus, we have students who last spring weren't planning to enroll, and therefore weren't vaccinated early enough.”

She said the HBCUs have used federal funding to offer some students debt forgiveness and scholarships, allowing students to attend who otherwise could not and adding a few hundred students to the schools’ campuses.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman announced in April that all students, faculty and staff on the 12 schools’ campuses must be vaccinated or present a religious or medical exemption.

However, as Del. Jared Solomon, a Montgomery County Democrat, pointed out during Thursday’s meeting, each of the 12 schools has implemented that mandate differently.

“You have College Park and other schools that are saying, ‘You're not vaccinated, you're not coming back,’” Solomon said.

On the other hand, he said, some schools allow people who have neither gotten vaccinated nor submitted a religious or medical exemption to stay on campus so long as they get tested. At the University of Baltimore, for example, employees who have not complied with the vaccine mandate must get tested twice a month.

“I don’t really understand that discrepancy,” Solomon said.

Boughman said differing circumstances at each campus necessitate different approaches to the mandate.

“For example, at the University of Baltimore, the law school students are back in primarily face to face, but almost all of the undergrads who are there are, in fact, going to still be doing things remotely,” she said.

Schools with students who live on campus, such as the University of Maryland, College Park, also need to take a more stringent approach than schools like the University of Baltimore, which lacks a residential option, Boughman said.

She also noted that some schools have not yet reached their vaccination deadline, meaning students and employees still have a few more weeks to get their shot.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the rules for unvaccinated students and staff at Salisbury University. As of this fall, unvaccinated students and staff are not allowed on campus. Those who are in the process of getting vaccinated, including those who are waiting for their second shot, and those who have received approved exemptions must get tested twice a week.

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