$750 fees, denied access: How colleges are dealing with unvaccinated students

Some without mandates are trying unique tactics.
By: | August 12, 2021
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At the 680-plus colleges and universities that have decided to mandate vaccines, the expectations are clear: Without a religious or medical exemption, students can be barred from attending classes in person and participating in activities.

Here is an excerpt of a letter sent by Wake Forest University last Friday to students who did not comply with the institution’s mandate to submit documentation of vaccine proof by Aug. 1:

“We are sorry to inform you that you have not met the deadline for submitting the required documentation to Wake Forest related to the COVID-19 vaccination policy. As a result, you have been removed from your fall courses and your assigned housing (if applicable). You were informed of the requirements and deadline through multiple messages and methods over the past two months.”

Wake Forest officials say students can be reinstated by getting vaccinated or by getting an exemption. Because Wake has done so well with vaccinations—only 3% fall into the unvaccinated category—this issue affects few coming to campus. Some institutions such as the University of New Haven have opted for a less confrontational approach, with a policy that states that those who haven’t been vaccinated simply will not be allowed on campus.

But what about colleges and universities that are simply “encouraging” populations to get vaccines. What can they do to try to ensure a safer campus in the fall? Depending on the leniency of their state, they could take actions to ensure further cooperation.

For example, in its COVID-19 update for the fall, West Virginia Wesleyan College has included this warning to its community: “Students who do not submit proof of vaccination or who are not vaccinated will be charged a non-refundable $750 Covid fee for the Fall 2021 semester.”

Dean James Moore told WDTV that “the fee is going to be used to cover the expenses that will come with increased testing and other resources that the college will have to utilize and deploy to keep every student safe.”

West Virginia Wesleyan, a small private institution with an enrollment of just over 1,100 that does not have a mandate, says students must comply with proof by Sept. 7. Beyond the cash payment, the penalties rise for those who don’t get vaccinated—they must undergo weekly testing and will have limited access to facilities. Those who decide not to wear masks will be subject to further “judicial action”. Students who do contract COVID-19—regardless of vaccination status—must find housing after 48 hours off-campus or pay a $250 fee to the college to quarantine on campus.

The fee imposition idea is unique, though not new. In fact, when Rhodes College in Tennessee initially unveiled its COVID-19 plan for the fall, it was preparing to charge unvaccinated students $1,500 per semester. Since then and because of the rise of the Delta variant, Rhodes has fully mandated the vaccine campus-wide. Students must complete dosing schedules by Sept. 30. Those who don’t will be subject to an “administrative leave of absence.”

Fee charges and other requirements might fly in certain states, but there is a lot of uncertainty whether they can be meted out in others as Birmingham-Southern College realized recently over a “rebate” for testing of students. Vaccinated students who were tested could receive a $500 rebate toward testing payments, while unvaccinated students would not. The Associated Press reported that Alabama’s attorney general intervened, saying that these types of penalties—even masked as rebates—could violate the state’s ban on vaccine passports. President Daniel Coleman has sent further correspondence to his community, updating BSC’s guidance, the potential for incentives and a thorough breakdown of his area’s COVID situation related to the delta variant.

“Unfortunately, we will not get that sense of ‘normalcy’ just yet,” he wrote. “The highly contagious delta variant that wreaked havoc in India and the United Kingdom is spreading quickly across our state. Pursuant to state law, BSC will not mandate the COVID vaccine as a condition of attendance. However, unvaccinated individuals remain subject to increased public health guidelines.”

Two states over, Louisiana State University does not have a vaccine requirement but those who don’t have them will be subjected to once-per-month testing. That’s not enough, say frustrated campus faculty, who have pressed for mandates because of high positive case counts, according to a report in Baton Rouge’s Advocate newspaper. On the flip side, Bard College in upstate New York has achieved a remarkable 99% vaccination rate, and yet that 1% is being asked to mask up, practice social distancing at all times, and get the vaccine or there will be consequences.

“If a student arrives unvaccinated, has not previously made arrangements with the Bard Student Health Service for local vaccination upon arrival, and is not pre-approved or pending approval for a vaccine exemption, they are not eligible to be on campus,” Bard policy states. “Their account will be frozen, and access to course registration and college facilities including dining and residence halls will be denied.”