ISU announces vaccine requirement starting Jan. 1

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Sharing the Indiana State story: Indiana State President Deborah Curtis announces the university's new initiative called “The Indiana State Advantage" during her Fall Address on Thursday in Hulman Center.

Starting Jan. 1, all Indiana State University students and employees will be expected to either show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19 through spring semester, university president Deborah Curtis announced during her Fall Address to campus Thursday afternoon.

Details are currently being worked out and more information will be made available before the end of fall semester.

ISU announces vaccine requirement starting Jan. 1

Called the Sycamore Community Health Initiative, it is an expansion of changes made earlier this month impacting community engagement and experiential learning.

ISU previously announced that it was implementing new COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirements for some learning and community engagement activities that have a greater risk of transmission; those changes take effect Oct. 1.

The goal is to "make sure that our community remains healthy and that we can continue to engage in face-to-face, in-person as much as possible," Curtis said after her address.

"Everybody's heard President Biden talk about what the need is. And it's a choice; people have a choice," she said. "We've abided by CDC, state of Indiana, Vigo County Health Department, and we believe this is the appropriate next step."

Details about how testing will be funded are not yet available.

"We don't have all those details now," she said. "We just want people to know it's coming."

Darlene Hantzis, professor of communication, said of the announcement, "I was very happy that we have moved ahead with this. It matches what is happening nationally and what the best advice is."

Debra Israel, chairperson of the economics department, said, "I think it's fabulous that we really express as a university that we take very seriously the health of our students, our staff and our faculty at heart."

Indiana State Advantage

The Fall Address was moved to Hulman Center to showcase the arena’s $50 million renovation and provide for social distancing.

The overall theme of Curtis' address was “The Indiana State Advantage," and she asked the audience to share with others how that advantage transforms lives.

"Please encourage others to take another look at Indiana State. We need to push out the great message that ISU is the university with an unparalleled focus on student success," she said. "We create a university home for those pursuing life-changing opportunities that result in career and life achievement unlike any other institution."

She highlighted ISU's recent fundraising success along with its No. 1 statewide ranking in social mobility and its continued high placement rate.

For the third straight year, ISU was first in the state in CollegeNet’s Social Mobility Index, and ranked in the top 11% nationally.

“This is our mission, and this is what we are passionate about,” Curtis said. “It’s the definition of the American Dream. At Indiana State, we transform lives through the impact of an ISU degree."

ISU also had the largest fundraising year in its history in 2020-21, raising more than $29 million. “Indiana State University is hearing from our donors that they believe in what we do, who we serve, and the impact this university has on our graduates’ live," Curtis said.

'A major challenge'

ISU's president also acknowledged ISU's enrollment decline, which "remains a major challenge" not only to ISU, but similar institutions across the nation. The university's enrollment this fall is 9,459, down 12.6% from fall 2020.

Fueled by the pandemic, "This challenge will be exacerbated by the upcoming significant decline in high school graduates," Curtis said. "We must be aggressive and adaptable as we all work together to own this challenge."

One tool is the Indiana State Advantage, a three-pronged approach that includes an experiential learning guarantee, a tuition-free guarantee and a four-year guarantee. For entering freshmen in fall 2022, that includes an out-of-classroom experience grant worth up to $3,000 in support of research opportunities, internships, service trips or study abroad.

Applications for the 2022 fall freshmen class are currently at a five-year high, Curtis said.

But ISU must enroll not only more freshmen, but transfer and graduate students, both on campus and online, she said.

ISU hopes to make its admissions process more efficient for transfer and graduate students and also streamline the structure of its curriculum to increase on-time graduation rates. It will use a $6.3 million Lilly Endowment grant to close the completion gap for under-represented and at-risk students groups.

The enrollment decline has had a "significant" impact on the budget, she said. ISU has been able to live within its means and remain fiscally sound, which Curtis attributed to the leadership of senior vice president Diann McKee and her team, as well as overall university efforts to keep vacant positions open as long as possible and manage budgets conservatively.

"We will need your assistance to continue along that path," Curtis told the audience. "Federal stimulus dollars have helped the university, as well as our students, this past year. Those funds end with this fiscal year."

The address was the official start of the Focusing on Our Future Together Strategic Plan for 2021-25. Curtis discussed examples of the initiatives underway to achieve each of the plan’s five goals.

Goal One involves advancing ISU's commitment to equity and inclusive excellence. Among the initiatives, ISU is launching a campus-wide online training module on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Also, Flags of Inclusiveness in the Hulman Memorial Union Commons represent the diverse student body.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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