UTEP pharmacy students vaccinated other students earlier this year on campus. (J.R. Hernandez/UTEP Communications)

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 among its student body, the University of Texas at El Paso will provide financial compensation to students who get vaccinated.

The effort begins next week and coincides with the return to in-person instruction.The vaccination program will continue through the end of October.

“Students who get their shots at UTEP or at another clinic between Aug. 23 and Oct. 31 will get $25 in Miner Bucks, a ‘Miners Take Care of Miners’ T-shirt, and other free giveaways,” UTEP President Heather Wilson said in an email to students.

The incentives are even greater for students who live on campus.

“If you live in a campus residence hall and get vaccinated, UTEP will pay $550 of your rent for the semester,” the email states.

Wilson later tweeted: “If you live in a campus residence hall this fall and are vaccinated, UTEP will pay $550 of your rent for the semester.” UTEP officials confirmed with El Paso Matters that all vaccinated students who live on campus are eligible to receive the credit regardless of when they were vaccinated. UTEP officials stated that more information would be provided to the public this week.

The announcement comes as local entities, including the El Paso and Socorro public school districts, are moving forward with mask mandates in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that forbids local entities from requiring face coverings. The city of El Paso also voted this week to join a lawsuit challenging Abbott’s order.

But because UTEP is a public university, it can’t issue a similar order, school officials said.

“As a Texas public university, we are a state agency subject to state regulations and UT System rules. Accordingly, we do not deny anyone services based on a vaccination status or whether or not they’re wearing a mask,” Wilson said in her email.

Wilson stated that, in accordance with CDC guidelines, masks are encouraged for indoor public settings at UTEP whether a person is vaccinated or not. She also stated that she will be wearing a mask and encourages others to do so as well.

In June, Wilson emailed students stating that “approximately 90% of staff and faculty and 73% of students are fully vaccinated.”

Javier De La Hoz, a senior in the communications studies program, said it is unfair that UTEP is providing financial compensation to only those who live on campus and are about to get vaccinated.

“I feel that is unfair for the students who were vaccinated earlier in the year,” De La Hoz said. “The people who took the time when the pandemic was at its peak and got vaccinated didn’t get anything back.”

De La Hoz said he received the vaccination in March and wishes that UTEP would provide compensation or incentives to everyone regardless of when they got the shot.

“If you want to be fair to all students and faculty, you have to distribute the wealth across the table,” De La Hoz said. He said that all students could benefit from the incentives the school is now providing.

UTEP senior Zaid Zavala Ricarte agrees.

“I think any motivation for more people to get vaccinated is a step in the right direction,” Zavala Ricarte said. “I think that there has been a lot of financial struggle for many people and we could all benefit from our university’s help.”

With in-person classes starting next Monday, UTEP senior Bryant Webb said he wishes that professors had a say on whether students should or shouldn’t wear masks.

“When going to classes where there are 300 students in a lecture hall, that can be sketchy,” Webb said. “There should be talks that if a professor wants masks worn then that should be allowed in their classroom.”

He also said he isn’t surprised by the announcement and the school’s new action plan to get students vaccinated.

“I think what the president is trying to do is not say that there is going to be an issue without saying that there is going to be an issue,” Webb said. “She’s trying to cover her(self). That way, in case something does happen, she can say ‘Well we tried the best we could before classes started.’”

De La Hoz said the email announcement increased concerns about the unvaccinated student population.

“I was a little worried but the email also states that we’re allowed to wear face masks,” he said.

Zavala Ricarte said he worries that those who are unvaccinated won’t be wearing face masks.

“My fear is for those who are unvaccinated, because they are the most reluctant to listen to the CDC, and are usually the ones who go unmasked,” he said.

At El Paso Community College, a proposal to get more students vaccinated is currently under consideration but will not be finalized until next month. EPCC is not currently offering incentives to unvaccinated students or staff.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.