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Colleges have the opportunity of a lifetime: to be essential partners in the rollout of the COVID vaccine.

It should go without saying that this is a once-in-a-century challenge. Experts are saying that even our most ambitious plans are not good enough.

If ever there was an all-hands-on-deck moment, this is it. Colleges cannot sit this national crisis out.

It just so happens that no other institution in American society is better prepared to meet every aspect of this momentous challenge, from educating various segments of the public to actually getting shots in arms, than college campuses.

Colleges have scientists who can help explain the vaccine to their local communities. They have experts in diversity who can customize messaging to various racial and religious minorities who have expressed hesitancy. They have their own public health clinics and departments who are preparing to do vaccine rollout for the campus community.

Campuses have community engagement programs that are already working with local schools, civic groups, health care facilities and the like. Even beyond formal outreach programs, the local community is surely familiar with the campus. Perhaps they have attended a sporting event or a speaker series or a concert. Perhaps they have a family member employed in a campus library or dining hall.

Campuses are accustomed to managing crowds. If you can coordinate a freshman move-in day and home football games, you can organize your institution to provide COVID vaccines.

And campuses have legions of civically minded professionals and students who would be overjoyed to be involved in something of such high purpose.

And let’s not forget that university leaders have been saying for decades that the campus is a community institution, not an ivory tower -- a village commons rather than a privileged enclave, as Robert Fried and Eli Kramer recently wrote.

There is plenty more smart thinking along the same lines, from Laurie Patton’s observation that COVID has helped campuses focus on the local to Ira Harkavy’s conviction that campuses ought to act as anchor institutions.

If you are a college administrator and you need any more motivation to pick up the phone and say “Put me in, Coach” to the mayor or the governor, consider this: a whole set of for-profit companies (Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft) have already volunteered.

Surely if companies whose principal focus is profit can play a key role in the vaccine rollout, campuses whose principal goal is to promote the general welfare can do the same.

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