There has been not been a bigger story this year than the COVID-19 vaccine. It has inspired both hope and controversy. While many have seen the vaccine as a sign that life may soon return to normal, some have grave concerns about the vaccine. Some evangelicals have attacked significant religious meaning to the vaccine. There are even those who are associating the vaccine with the sign of the beast.
This tension creates a challenge for evangelical colleges that get about 80% of their revenue from tuition. Even if the leadership believes in the vaccine for the safety of their student body, making it a requirement could shutter the institution.
Liam Adams writes in Christianity Today:
Only one of the roughly 140 US schools that belong to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) is planning to require students to receive COVID-19 vaccines before starting school in the fall: Seattle Pacific University.
The rest will “strongly encourage” vaccines, according to CCCU spokeswoman Greta Hays, while leaving the ultimate decision up to individual students and their families. While the evangelical institutions want to ensure campus-wide health and administrators widely support inoculations, they are also concerned about the impact vaccine requirements would have on enrollment.
At Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, California, the head of enrollment estimated a vaccine requirement could mean the 1,300-student school has 200 fewer students enrolled in the fall.
“For a school our size, that’s a chunk,” said Irene Neller, Westmont’s vice president of enrollment, marketing and communications. “It’s financially driven in many regards. State-funded schools can really be black and white. … But a lot of the private, smaller campuses, Christian or secular, just can’t.”
Seattle Pacific also wants to encourage that dialogue [about the relationship between religion and science], but only after it has required students to be vaccinated.
“You want to continue to protect your community as your top priority and then, if there are anomalies to that or exceptions, so be it,” said Nate Mouttet, vice president for enrollment management and marketing. “We want to take what we think is best for the entire community first and then allow people to dialogue with us, thoughtfully and intelligently.”
Another factor at Seattle Pacific is the relationship between the school and the surrounding community, said Jeff Jordan, vice provost for student formation and community engagement. While some small colleges are isolated communities, the school is located in Seattle, and many students have internships across the city. Administrators didn’t want to put the wider community at risk.
The university will, however, grant medical, disability, and religious exemptions. To receive religious exemptions, students must write to explain why they are seeking an exemption and then submit a letter from a pastor or another religious leader, written on their behalf. Administrators said students who ask for exemptions will most likely get them, but the school wants to start with a conversation about ethical responsibility, vaccine efficacy, and trustworthiness.
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