College Contest Participation Suggests Vaccination Gains

By Paige McGaughy and Rob Wells

The University of Arkansas is running a contest to encourage students to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the strong student participation offers new insight about the pace of vaccination on the state’s largest campus.

More than 16,000 University of Arkansas students have applied to win prizes, such as $500 scholarships or Razorback Football tickets, in exchange for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If we assume all 16,000 students are vaccinated – you can’t get a prize unless you show proof of a shot – that suggests about 56% of the campus’ 29,000 students are vaccinated.

Details about the extent of student vaccinations have been difficult to discern to this point. On Sept. 1, the university announced 8,236, or 57% of students who are Arkansas residents were fully vaccinated.

But that was only half of the picture.

The vaccination rate for the out-of-state students, who make up about half of the student population, wasn’t released due to record gathering difficulties. That left questions about the extent of vaccinations for the whole student body.

 Amy L. Schlesing, the university’s executive director for strategic communications, confirmed that 16,369 students have registered for the university’s vaccine incentives. “We don’t know if all of the more than 16,000 students who registered for incentives are fully vaccinated,” Schlesing said in an email. “They only have to send in their vax card when they are selected as a winner.”

Assuming an enrollment of 29,000 students, that would represent a student vaccination rate of about 56%. That is significant since Arkansas has a current vaccination rate of 45.5% for the whole population, placing it in the bottom tier of the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The contest also suggests some other positive news: the university said 1,280 of the 16,369 students were vaccinated this fall.

The University of Arkansas has seen a decline in active COVID-19 cases on campus. There are 39 current active cases on campus, according to the Pat Walker Health Center. The week of August 30 saw the peak of infection with 176 active cases on campus. The university requires everyone to wear a mask indoors when 6-feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Vaccinated students, regardless of vaccination date, are given multiple opportunities to win a range of prizes. The university announced more than 140 winners and continues to draw new winners each week throughout the semester. The City of Fayetteville established a vaccine incentives program offering a one-time payment of $100 to any individuals working or living in Fayetteville who become fully vaccinated between August 17 and October 15. This incentive also applies to students living in Fayetteville while attending the University of Arkansas.

Rob Wells

Rob Wells, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media.


The University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media operates this site as an independent source of news and as a community service for Arkansas residents. Students produce the content here under the supervision of Rob Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Journalism. The data presented here is collected at roughly the same time each day from the Arkansas Department of Health website.

Questions? Email