Unvaccinated college students face COVID-19 test fees — and fines


Like many employers around the U.S., colleges and universities are taking a carrot-and-stick approach to convincing unvaccinated students to roll up their sleeves. That ranges from some schools offering prizes such as scholarships and unlimited meal plans in return for getting inoculated, while other institutions take the hard line and impose fees of $2,000 or more to help cover the costs of coronavirus testing.  

More than 500 colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to get vaccinated. Birmingham-Southern College is not among them, the Alabama school states on its website. Instead, all of BSC's nearly 1,300 students will be charged $500 for the fall term to offset the cost of weekly COVID-19 testing and quarantining, although fully vaccinated students will get the money back.

Another Alabama institution, Auburn University, is taking a starkly different approach — an incentive program in the form of a contest for fully vaccinated students and student organizations. Individual prizes include an upgraded parking pass for the semester, an unlimited meal plan and a $1,000 scholarship. Other prizes include customized Yeti coolers and a catered meal, according to the school, where nearly 31,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled. 

Both Birmingham-Southern and Auburn operate in a state that passed legislation prohibiting businesses, universities and state agencies from denying entry to unvaccinated people. 

“I am supportive of a voluntary vaccine, and by signing this bill into law I am only further solidifying that conviction,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement earlier this year.

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The University of Kansas last week announced an array of potential prizes for fully vaccinated students returning to classes next week. It is offering $40 gift cards to the first 4,000 students who get their first jab on campus and holding a raffle for fully vaccinated students — three of whom will win free in-state tuition for a semester, while three others will each win $5,000.

“The incentives were funded by federal monies that were intended to be spent on vaccines, testings and incentives,” Andrew Foster, KU's emergency management coordinator, said in a video posted on the school's website.

Louisiana officials on Friday unveiled a $7.5 million incentive program for college students, saying the state will pay the first 75,000 college students $100 each if they are vaccinated at participating colleges and universities. Eighteen-to-29-year-olds “are one of the two least vaccinated age groups in Louisiana, and are reporting the most cases statewide,” according to a news release issued by Governor John Bel Edwards and the state health department. 

After saying this summer that it would charge unvaccinated students a $1,500 “health and safety” fee per semester to cover the costs of mandatory coronavirus testing, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, is rescindng the fee and now mandating that all students get vaccinated. Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, also dropped its testing fee in favor of a vaccination requirement for all on campus. 

Other schools are issuing mandates, but not blanket ones. At Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, for instance, students are required to be vaccinated, while staff members are only strongly encouraged to do so. 

Stiff fines and no WiFi

Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, is warning of stiff fines of up to $2,275 over the fall semester for unvaccinated students, according to the Hartford Courant. Those who aren't fully inoculated by September 14 will be charged $100 a week and also lose WiFi access, the private school told hundreds of noncompliant students in an email, the newspaper reported.

The University of Michigan is among the schools that last year started charging all students a temporary COVID-19 fee of $50 for full-time students and $25 for part-timers to cover the tab of testing students. 

West Virginia's Wesleyan College isn't requiring that students be immunized against COVID-19 when classes start this month, but those who haven't gotten at least a first shot by September 7 will be charged $750. The private Christian liberal arts school says a “large percentage” of its roughly 1,500 students are vaccinated, along with 90% of faculty and staff. 

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“For the college to truly return to a new normal and deliver a high-quality educational experience, we encourage all of our students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated,” WVWC stated on its website. The college is not currently mandating the vaccine, but may do so once the vaccines are fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a step that could come next month, it said.

For now, the vaccines are approved for emergency use and are widely viewed as the best means of preventing hospitalizations and deaths amid a pandemic that has killed nearly 624,000 Americans.

Although 51% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, persuading younger adults to get their shots has proved easier said than done. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are most likely to say that they definitely do not intend to get the shots, according to an ongoing tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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