College students returned this fall to find rigid COVID-19 prevention rules that take away from college's social appeal. And noncompliance can be costly.
Northeastern University, for example, suspended 11 students who broke COVID-19 protocols. The school initially said it wouldn't return the $36,000 each paid. Later, Northeastern announced it would credit each student $27,760 toward the spring.
An attorney representing at least two of the families, Brett Joshpe, says Northeastern kept roughly $9,000 in room and board.
"I'm not optimistic that next semester things will go back to normal," Joshpe says. "I think we'll see rules in place that are legacy to COVID, well beyond the time COVID passes."
Leading health professionals also believe we'll have to maintain some COVID-19 precautions through 2021. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stretched the timeline even further at a recent address at Thomas Jefferson University, saying public health measures will be necessary into 2022 before a vaccine can push herd immunity.
To meet this new normal, know your school's COVID-19 policies and how they can affect tuition money and financial aid if you don't comply.
WHAT ARE THE NEW COLLEGE COVID-19 POLICIES?
Schools nationwide added clauses to enforce COVID-19 safety rules, including social gathering limits and mask mandates. Noncompliance can warrant expulsion, suspension, removal from campus housing or probation. Expelled students can't return to the school. Suspended students can return after a set period.
Many schools notified students of new policies via social campaigns, according to a survey by EAB, an education services, technology and research firm. Forty percent of colleges planned to have students sign COVID-19 protocol agreements.
Rules like those at Purdue University require students to participate in community testing and get the flu vaccine. Purdue says it tries to address violations with warnings but reserves the right to suspend.
As of late September, the school had suspended at least 50 students who attended large parties.
Penn State University requires students to wear face coverings in campus buildings and outside when they can't socially distance, among other rules — or risk expulsion.
As of Oct. 1, Penn State had suspended 10 students, removed 17 from campus housing and put 204 on probation.
If you're unsure about your school's policy, contact the office of student affairs.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR FINANCIAL AID IF YOU'RE SUSPENDED?
"If a student is suspended midsemester and is receiving federal financial aid, we are required to perform a federal calculation called Return of Title IV Funds," explains Liz McCune, spokesperson for the University of Missouri. This determines how much of the aid must be returned to the government.
And any money returned is money you could owe the school.
McCune also explains that if students receive a renewable scholarship, the semester they're suspended could count against the maximum number of semesters they're eligible for the award.
The University of Missouri's COVID-19 rules include daily symptoms checks and mandatory face coverings. The school had suspended at least five students for violations as of Sept. 25.
Students with loans have more to worry about. Student loans go into repayment if you're suspended for longer than your grace period, which is typically six months. Students at Penn State, for example, were suspended for the academic year.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR TUITION IF YOU'RE SUSPENDED?
If you're suspended for COVID-19 violations, you probably won't get a tuition refund.
Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors, says policies are school and situation specific, but she doesn't expect widespread refunds.
Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, for example, states that students suspended for disciplinary reasons may receive a prorated account credit. But they won't get a refund — even if they don't return to use the credit.
Lehigh's COVID-19 rules include limiting off-campus social gatherings to five people and avoiding nonessential travel.
McCune says that University of Missouri students can receive a prorated refund if suspended.
WILL CAMPUS COVID-19 RULES CHANGE WITH THE PANDEMIC?
Colleges may adjust their COVID-19 rules as the pandemic evolves.
For example, Northeastern recently eased some of its restrictions, citing high compliance and low campus COVID-19 positivity rates.
But Annie Probert, sophomore at Northeastern and writer for a student-run newspaper, says some students worry lifting restrictions will lead to an outbreak.
While many Northeastern students agree with the rules, she says, they were upset that their peers were denied refunds earlier this semester. That strict enforcement, however, is what Probert thinks stopped others from breaking the rules.
"I can't even imagine what they had to tell their parents," she says.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Cecilia Clark is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NerdWallet: What is a student loan grace period? http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-student-loan-grace