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UW System Makes Most Students Eligible For Scholarships Drawings If They Get Vaccinated

Lauren Sigfusson
UW System leaders say the vaccine scholarship incentive is meant to boost healthy competition among students and achieve herd immunity.

Students at almost all University of Wisconsin system schools who are vaccinated or will get vaccinated before October 15 will be eligible for one of 70 $7,000 scholarships. That’s if their university achieves at least a 70% vaccination rate.

System leaders say the incentive is meant to boost healthy competition among students and achieve herd immunity.

UW System President Tommy Thompson is no stranger to trying to convince college students to take precautions against COVID.

Like in this video where he and comedian Charlie Berens used a variety of instruments to crush everything from cream puffs to hot dishes that represent the virus.

Now he’s announced the “70 for 70” vaccination scholarship campaign.

Thompson says, “And we're having competition and we're going to be able to build up the rivalry and hopefully the intercollegiate spirit to get at least 70% of our students vaccinated. All the campuses are going to be participating — except Madison will have its own program.”

UW-Madison’s exception is because they have more resources and different goals, he says. “They got their own hospital, their own lab. And Chancellor Blank wants to be able to set the bar higher, she wants to go to 80%," Thompson outlines.

The school’s communications department says the university is considering incentives but doesn’t have anything to announce at this time. For students at the rest of the universities, including 2-year-campuses, the scholarships are fair game.

The total cost will be $490,000. Thompson says the money needed to pay for the program is coming from UW System Administration Funds. “We would have spent a lot more money for testing and, and for making sure we had every, all the testing site setup, so ... this is going to be better," he says.

Thompson has also asked Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to fund the program with federal dollars, but says Evers has not agreed to it yet. “And I know the governor is very interested in making sure we are able to keep our universities open. What better way to put some of those federal dollars to us into a program like this?," he asks.

And where are the universities now when it comes to vaccination rates?

Thompson says he doesn’t yet have up-to-date figures on that but says the system has put out a survey.

“We're thinking it pretty much resembles what the state of Wisconsin is: 50%. I'm using 50% until we get further information. And that's why we're going to put the real push out now, up to 70%. And this delta variant is helping us get the word out," he says.

Once a school gets to 70% vaccination, they’ll draw more than 70 names from the school and students who win will have to bring in their vaccination card to corroborate their status.

As for why the system is not mandating vaccines, especially given a recent court ruling by an Indiana federal judge that refused to block a university’s mandate, Thompson says incentives like this work better.

“We want to get the students buying in, we want to, you know, they bought in on the mass thing, even though that was a mandate, but they came, they had a cultural responsibility, they went around and actually did the enforcing," he says.

Thompson also says that since the vaccine is being distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization, mandates can cause problems.

Ultimately, though, Thompson has a message to college students: “If you want a college experience, if you want, you know, we're gonna have 75% of my classes opening up person to person, and a lot of schools are telling me, they're going to be higher than that. So, I want those professors and those students to be safe and healthy.”

He says the best way to do that is to get vaccinated.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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