JOHNSTOWN – Fulton-Montgomery Community College begins its fall semester on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen how students attending class will comply with New York state’s 35-day window to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
FMCC President Greg Truckenmiller said the vaccine mandate is a real “wild card” in whether the college will meet its projection of gaining 157 full time equivalent students for the 2021-22 school year.
“This has been one of the weirdest years in terms of projections because of the pandemic, but a couple of weeks ago things looked pretty bleak, and then in the last couple of weeks it’s really picked up, but any student who wants to attend here, has to be vaccinated,” Truckenmiller said last week.
SUNY’s vaccine mandate may be sneaking up on some students and parents, as it was put in place using a two-step process:
• First, the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution on in June that mandated all students — with limited exceptions for fully remote students and students with medical and religious exceptions — must be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend classes at any SUNY owned or leased facility. But the mandate was contingent on U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of at least one COVID-19 vaccine.
• Last week, the FDA gave full approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine shot, bringing the SUNY mandate into full-effect with two weeks to go before most SUNY schools begin classes.
Truckenmiller said he’s concerned about how students may react to the mandate.
“We know there’s some resistance locally,” he said. “Students have to provide proof, and they have a 35-day grace period to provide evidence, similar to other vaccinations they’re required to have to attend FMCC. There’s a form they have to provide for proof of their vaccination.”
Vaccine hesitancy has proven persistent in Fulton County, and to a lesser extent Montgomery County. For percentage of vaccinated residents both of FMCC’s host counties trail the state as a whole, where 64.8% of residents, 13 million people, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Montgomery County 59.3% of residents, 29,343 people, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Fulton County continues to rank at the bottom of the counties in the mostly rural Mohawk Valley region for percentage of residents who have received at least one dose at 46.7%, 25,046 people. Fulton County’s vaccination percentage also ranks near the bottom of all of New York state’s 62-counties.
For Sunday and Monday of last week, Fulton County had far and away the highest COVID-19 positivity rate of any county in New York state, with one out of five COVID-19 tests given to residents coming back positive, roughly five times New York state’s 62-county average for Sunday and Monday.
Fulton County Dept. of Public Health Director Laurel Headwell on Aug. 9 issued a warning to county residents that the COVID-19 delta variant was causing a substantial uptick in local COVID-19 cases and even residents who have been fully vaccinated should be wearing masks during indoor gatherings.
Truckenmiller said FMCC will be checking to verify whether students are being honest about having received a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We will accept a vaccination card as proof, but we’re also going to report this information to the state Dept. of Health,” he said. “It is possible to register for classes without providing that proof, but there is a deadline, so within 35 days of attendance you have to produce that documentation to the registrar’s office. If you produce a forgery, we could be duped, but we have access to the state’s vaccine registry, and we will verify that you lied to us basically.”
If they don’t comply with the mandate, students who are opposed to vaccination will face the possibility of completely losing their tuition payment,
“You will be de-registered from the college,” Truckenmiller said. “Basically, if you’re not interested in being vaccinated, don’t come here because there is going to be a financial liability to you if you start classes, and then decide not to get vaccinated. We’re following the SUNY tuition refund policy, so if you wait the 35 days, you would not be receiving any money back. In the first couple of weeks, there is a pro-rated refund, but if you stick around for 35 days, and then decide you won’t want to get vaccinated, you’ll be losing all of your money.”
Annual tuition at FMCC is $5,040.
FMCC’s 2021-22 budget estimates the college will have 1,325 full time equivalent [FTE] students attending the school in 2020-21, which would be a turnaround from having lost FTEs every year since 2016 when there were 1,349 full-time students and 1,285 part-time students at the college.
In 2017, full-time students dropped to 1,250, in 2018 full-time students dropped to 1,136, in 2019 full-time students dropped below 1,000 to 998, and in 2020 full-time students hit a low mark of 790 students.