Vaccine Mandate Has Contributed to the Sharp Enrollment Drop at Texas Community Colleges

With the recent recession came a corresponding boom at two-year colleges as students sought to gain marketable job skills without shelling out big bucks to attend costlier four-year institutions.

That boom is now over, and the numbers in Texas are bearing that out. Between fall 2011 and fall 2012, 2.7 percent decline in enrollment at community colleges, according to data compiled by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In North Texas, the drop was 1.8 percent.

This isn't surprising. As the factors that drove enrollment growth -- a weak economy, lots of people out of work -- have reversed, it's predictable that community college enrollment would do. But a THECB report released last month suggests an additional factor: meningitis vaccines.

The vaccine, a dose of which can run to more than $125, nearly twice the cost of a credit at most Texas community colleges, was mandated by the state legislature for incoming students under the age of 30 who enroll all Texas colleges. The bill named for two Texans who contracted the bacterial meningitis at college, was meant to prevent future cases of the brain-destroying disease, which spreads easily in close quarters like dorm rooms.

There is little hard data, but Rey Garcia, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, told Inside Higher Ed that it's a contributing factor to the enrollment decline.

"It might be the shot requirement is just the last straw for a student struggling to navigate college matriculation," he told the publication.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound, has filed a bill for the legislative session that starts next week that would lower the age at which students are exempt from the law from 30 years to 21. That obviously wouldn't do much to help an 18-year-old struggling to pay community college tuition, but it makes sense since you won't find many 29-year-olds living in dorm rooms.

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