College costs in age of COVID-19: Some schools tack on pandemic-related fees

College costs in age of COVID-19: Some schools tack on pandemic-related fees
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a row of empty chairs inside a classroom as students begin classes amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Some schools are charging extra fees. Other schools are being petitioned to cut the cost of education as classes transition to or remain online. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Classrooms on some college campuses may be sitting empty this semester, but that is not stopping schools from charging not only tuition but also fees related directly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Students who are participating in remote learning are petitioning their future alma maters to have the fees waived for the new school year.

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition to have Rutgers University stop charging fees and going so far as to ask for a 20% cut in tuition, The New York Times reported.

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Fees at Rutgers have been reduced but not eliminated, petition organizers said.

The university has approved a 15% fee reduction, officials said on the school’s website.

At the Univesity of North Carolina, 40,000 people have petitioned to have housing costs refunded.

The school announced there would be no in-person classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, USA Today reported. The school had reopened but was in session only one week.

Some colleges and universities already offered discounts for the 2020-21 school year but most are not, the Times found.

What is surprising some students are additional fees at other universities for the start of the year.

Some schools are passing on to students the costs of screening for the coronavirus and adjusting campus facilities to prevent the spread of the virus, the Times reported.

The fees run the gamut from $50 to hundreds of dollars. For example, the University of Michigan tacked on a $50 a term coronavirus fee, while Merrimack College in Massachusetts is charging $475 per semester for each student attending class in person, the Times reported.

Merrimack College officials said on the school’s website that the fee is temporary:

All students taking in-person classes will need to participate in the College’s testing program. While Merrimack will subsidize the costs associated with testing, each student will be required to pay a mitigation fee each semester. At the time of publication, the federal government is considering some funding to colleges for testing. Should Merrimack receive funding for testing, it will share a portion of these funds with students by crediting student accounts. Having a separate and transparent mitigation fee will make any credits easier to identify should funding become available.
merrimack.edu

Elon University in North Carolina is also considering a $129 fee for a home-testing kit for students, Lifehacker reported. The test was required before the semester started. Students will be billed and the receipts can be submitted to health insurance, school officials said on Elon’s website.