Higher education in the United States has become very expensive. One of the main reasons is deep state budget cuts, which place a heavier financial weight on students. On a typical college or university bill, you’ll find tuition, room and board (unless you’re living off-campus) and a list of extra fees. And, this year, you might find another charge — the extra college COVID fee.
This new expense is being tacked on to many college and university bills “to share the costs of testing and reconfiguring campus facilities,” according to The New York Times. If you find this extra charge on your bill, it’s important to understand what that charge will and won’t cover in terms of testing and health coverage related to COVID-19.
How much are college COVID fees?
Extra COVID fees per semester vary widely, ranging from $50 to $475. The wide range depends on the exact level of testing and protective steps each college and university is taking, as well as the immediate resources available. For instance:
- The University of Michigan is charging $50 per term to cover costs of testing and other pandemic-related health and safety services. The public university, based in Ann Arbor, has an on-site medical school and lab, which indicated it would perform its own COVID-19 testing.
- Merrimack College, a private undergraduate university in Massachusetts, is at the top end of the payment spectrum, charging $450 per semester. The college is planning weekly surveillance testing, anticipating approximately 4,500 on-campus tests. According to Merrimack’s website, “all students taking in-person classes will need to participate in the College’s testing program.” While the college will subsidize many of the costs associated with testing, students must pay the mitigation fee. The website goes on to say that if Merrimack receives federal funding, it will use a portion of that to credit student accounts.
Meanwhile, other higher education institutions are determining how — and whether — to charge extra COVID fees. The situation is fluid, with protocols changing daily. In the face of sudden coronavirus spikes, some campuses are shifting to 100% remote learning, bypassing the need for COVID fees altogether. For example, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Michigan State University have moved their entire semesters online.
College COVID fees vs. health insurance
That extra COVID fee is separate from any health insurance provided — or not provided — to you while on campus. An important issue to keep in mind is that your college or university might not cover health costs if you become ill.
According to Terrell Strayhorn, vice president of academic affairs at Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA, many institutions do not provide such coverage. “Of course, if health insurance is included or covered in the student’s comprehensive fee, then it will apply,” he says. “Additional screenings, tests and care required, once a student tests positive for COVID, can vary, depending on plans and providers.”
If you check your college or university semester bill, you may find that the institution charges a health fee, which might cover your primary care or counseling expenses. Others could waive that fee if students are already on their parents’ health insurance policy. Keep in mind that this usually requires a parent to sign a waiver.
How to prepare for college during COVID-19
The best advice for anything college and coronavirus-related is preparation — both when it comes to finding that extra COVID fee on your semester bill and if you become ill while on campus.
- Know where the campus health clinic is located. This is important, especially on a large campus, since that clinic could be a 10-minute drive or 30-minute bus ride away from your living space. Plan ahead to determine how you’d get to the clinic if needed.
- Familiarize yourself with your school’s COVID-19 protocols. Make sure you’re familiar with your school’s protocols in the event you experience coronavirus symptoms. For example, some campus health clinics require students to call before showing up, so they can be prepared to isolate you, if necessary. Also, learn about the on-campus protocols for quarantine and treatment should you test positive for COVID-19.
- Contact your financial aid department for assistance. If you need help paying for school, including the COVID fee, contact your financial aid department. Depending on your financial aid plan, you could receive help paying for the extra charges.
- Contact your health insurance to verify coverage. Whether you’re insured by a college-affiliated health plan, you’re on your parent’s health plan or you’re covered some other way, call and find out if your health insurance plan covers the costs of COVID testing and treatment if you become ill on campus. Many insurance plans have provisions for this, though some might require up-front payment and later reimbursement.
Too long, didn’t read?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed how higher education operates while also increasing expenses. If you happen to find that extra COVID fee on your semester bill, find out what it covers and what kind of additional coverage you may need, like health insurance, to ensure proper care if you were to test positive for COVID-19 while at school.
- How to Save Money While Attending College from Home
- A COVID-19 Infection Could Cost You 1,400 (After Insurance)
- Should Students Take a Gap Year Because of COVID-19? It Depends.
Terrel L. Strayhorn, PhD
Terrel L, Strayhorn, Ph.D., is provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Virginia Union University. He has over 15 years of work experience in higher education and holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University of Virginia.
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