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Some Colleges Eye New Student Fees to Cover Virus Costs

August 21, 2020
By Ann Carrns

Some Colleges Eye New Student Fees to Cover Virus Costs

College students are used to seeing fees on their semester bills. This year, some students are noticing a new item: corona­virus fees.

Faced with extra expenses for screening and testing students for the virus and for reconfiguring campus facilities for safety, some colleges and universities are asking students to pay a share of the cost.

The level of testing and protective steps, and the associated cost, vary widely by campus. Some colleges are testing all students at the start of the semester, while others will also test repeatedly throughout the academic term.

The University of Michigan is charging a $50-per-term corona­virus fee this year. Revenue from the fee will help cover the costs of testing and other pandemic-related health and safety services, a spokesman said. Merrimack College, a private institution in North Andover, Mass., is charging a “COVID mitigation” fee of $475 per semester.

The college requires students to test negative before moving into their dorms and plans to conduct weekly surveillance testing throughout the semester, according to its website. The college didn’t respond to requests for comment. But its website said that even with budget cuts, the “extraordinary” costs of testing and safety measures “are difficult to absorb.”

Other colleges may still be calculating whether and how to charge fees since plans are changing daily, health experts say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend blanket “entry testing” of students, faculty and staff, noting the option hasn’t been systematically studied.

But many colleges that are inviting students back to campus are taking aggressive steps to avoid outbreaks. Large universities may have the infrastructure to conduct multiple tests rapidly on thousands of students, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, but smaller institutions may lack the facilities — or the funds — to do so.

St. Michael’s College in Vermont is charging all students a “comprehensive” testing fee of $150 for the fall semester, which includes testing at the start of the semester and repeat tests during the fall. “We know that this is a particularly difficult time financially for many families, and we wish we did not have to charge any fee,” the college said on its website.

An official at uAspire, a nonprofit group that advocates college affordability, said in an e-mail that the group applauded colleges that were being “transparent” about the extra charges, rather than quietly folding them into general fees. But, he said, “we don’t necessarily agree with passing the costs on to the student.”

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