Should Community Colleges Require Meningitis Vaccine for Admission?

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Should Community Colleges Require Meningitis Vaccine for Admission?
We analyze at a new policy among many community colleges nationwide that requires students to have a meningitis vaccine prior to enrollment, and how the new requirement has affected enrollment numbers.
Texas community colleges have seen a decline in enrollment numbers this year, which may be attributed to a number of factors. One of the potential reasons for the lower numbers may be a new mandate by the Texas government that requires college students to get a meningitis vaccination prior to the first day of classes. While some officials in the state are saying this mandate is the only way to prevent the spread of the deadly disease across college campuses, some college officials are attributing the expense and red tape of the process to fewer students on community college campuses this year.

 The Schanbaum/Williams Law
 
The new law was named for two Texas residents who contracted bacterial meningitis on college campuses. Effective January 1, 2012, the law requires all college students under the age of 30 to receive a meningitis vaccination at least 10 days prior to starting classes at any public or private institution of higher education. According to the Sacramento Bee, the law applies to all students heading to college for the first time or transferring from another institution. It also applies to students who have taken a semester break or more before returning to the college campus. Only students that can show proof of a meningitis vaccination within the past five years will be exempt from the requirement.
 
The law applies to any student taking classes on the college campus, whether or not they are living in campus housing. The bill was originally introduced as an effort to stop the spread of bacterial meningitis, which can be easily passed in crowded dormitories, classrooms or common areas. Prior to the bill’s introduction, Texas had seen a number of high-profile meningitis cases among college student, with at least one resulting in death, according to Inside Higher Ed.
 
About Meningitis
 
Bacterial meningitis, known by the clinical term meningococcal disease, is an illness that causes inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease travels through respiratory secretions, and may be spread by direct contact, kissing, coughing, and sneezing. Common symptoms of meningitis include a stiff neck, fever, nausea and headache. Sensitivity to light and changes to mental functioning may also occur. The disease may come on very quickly and the symptoms can progress to a life-threatening condition within a day or two.
 
According to the Sacramento Bee, meningitis strikes about 4,000 individuals in the United States annually. In many cases, the illness can be effectively treated through the administration of antibiotics. The sooner treatment is begun, the better the prognosis. However, meningitis is a deadly disease for some patients. As many as 10 to 12 percent of meningitis patients may die from the disease – some soon after diagnosis. 
 
The Houston Chronicle states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccination for everyone between the ages of 11 and 18, the age where the illness appears to be particularly prevalent. Those that received a previous vaccination prior to the age of 16 may also require a booster vaccine.
 
Vaccinations and College Enrollment
 
The law regarding meningitis vaccinations went into effect in Texas one year ago, and now some educators are attributing the new law at least in part to the recent drop in community college enrollment. The Dallas Observer reports that while there is no concrete data to support the claim to date, Rey Garcia, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, has listed the new vaccine requirement as one reason for the enrollment decline.
 
“It might be the shot requirement is just the last straw for a student struggling to navigate college matriculation,” Garcia said.
 
The problem with the new law is multifaceted. First, the meningitis vaccine is not cheap, running as much as $125 per dose. For college students struggling to pay tuition rates of $65 per credit hour in Texas, that bill may be more than they can handle. The second issue is one of red tape – Inside Higher Ed cites a complex paperwork maze that must be navigated in order to file the proper documents for community college enrollment. There has also been confusion as to how and when to file documentation of the vaccine or an exemption form. Finally, students who may wait to register for classes until the semester is about to begin may be dismayed to find the 10-day window for the meningitis vaccine prevents them from getting into the classes they want.
 
While there is no telling definitively whether the meningitis vaccine requirement is contributing to the community college enrollment, many believe it is a viable obstacle in filling college classrooms. The Houston Chronicle reports that State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Dallas) has filed a bill to amend the current law. According to Nelson’s proposal, the age for requiring the vaccination would move from 30 to 21. While this would not free all college students from the requirement, it would help those who are the least likely to live on campus, where the greatest risk for spreading the illness lies. Garcia is in favor of Nelson’s proposal.

“We are hopeful that the Texas Legislature will consider some reasonable changes to the meningitis shot requirement that will balance student interest and public health,” Garcia told Inside Higher Ed.
 
At this time, an amendment to the current law is still pending. For now, Texas community college students will need to heed the state rule and receive the meningitis vaccination or submit the appropriate exemption documentation before they can enroll in classes at any state institution.

Additional Resources [+]
Enrollment Declines Seen at Community Colleges Nationwide
Enrollment Declines Seen at Community Colleges Nationwide
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