September 20, 2020

New Fee on Some College Bills: It’s for the Virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t currently recommend blanket “entry testing” of returning students, faculty and staff. The agency’s website notes that such a step hasn’t been systematically studied, and it is “unknown” if it would reduce transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected by using other prevention measures, like social distancing, masks and hand washing.

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, Ms. Pasquerella said, but smaller institutions may lack the facilities — or the funds — to handle a large volume of tests.

Baylor University, which has an affiliated health care system, said it was sending home test kits to all students, and is requiring negative results before students arrive on the campus in Waco, Texas. The school will also conduct testing throughout the semester. Baylor is covering the costs, a spokeswoman said.

Elon University, a private institution in North Carolina with about 6,300 undergraduates, is also sending home testing kits to incoming students. The university will charge students $129, but is giving them time to seek reimbursement from their health insurer or apply for a fee waiver before billing them. Students can seek tests elsewhere, at a lower cost, as long as the test meets Elon’s requirements. Random testing will occur throughout the fall, at the university’s expense.

“We know testing is imperfect,” said Jeff Stein, Elon’s vice president for strategic initiatives. But the school hopes that the tests, combined with other protective steps, will help contain the virus’s spread.

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 says on its website.

Brendan Williams, senior director of knowledge at uAspire, a nonprofit group that advocates college affordability, said in an email 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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