Rhodes College in Memphis is taking a controversial step to encourage its students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before in-person classes resume in the fall. Earlier this month, the school informed enrollees that it will charge those who fail to get vaccinated $1,500 extra per semester.
According to information posted on the college website, the money collected will cover the laboratory and administrative expenses for mandatory weekly testing.
“A campus-wide commitment to vaccination will mean that we can move towards full capacity and reduced masking allowing for the intentional in-person campus life experience that we all love about Rhodes,” Rhodes Vice President for Student Life Meghan Harte Weyant said. “We hope our students will choose to be vaccinated to keep themselves, our campus, and community safe.”
Beyond paying $1,500, unvaccinated students will have to test negative 14 days before returning to campus. They will also be required to wear masks indoors and socially distance from others outdoors.
The school clarified that those who apply and are approved for medical and religious exemptions will not be subject to the extra fee. International students who are not able to receive COVID-19 shots in their home countries will also be exempt if they state their intent to receive a vaccine upon arrival.
Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, Kevin Volpp, believes that incentivizing individuals to get vaccinated with penalties is a “perfectly reasonable” move amid a health crisis.
He said that the majority of students probably want to get vaccinated and rewarding all of them will require a huge amount of money.
“I think there’s a good rationale that a stick-type incentive may be more effective at getting people’s attention…” he stated. “Rather than giving them all a reward, it makes sense to have a smaller percentage of them pay a penalty if they feel strongly about not getting vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, Harte Weyant said she is anticipating a fairly high compliance rate with the new policy. She pointed out that many students were already getting vaccinated before the college implemented the fee.
“There’s a keen interest to get back to campus and return to normal college life. Our students understand this is the best way for us to be all back together on campus and have the typical campus experience that they chose Rhodes for,” she remarked.
Student Opposes New Policy
In an interview with Fox News, Rhodes student Dietwin Smoli expressed that the school should not impose a policy that fines students who choose not to get vaccinated. He said people his age are less likely to contract serious cases of COVID-19.
He also emphasized that getting vaccinated is a personal decision and students should not have to choose between higher education or participating in a clinical trial.
“That’s something that is definitely going to impact the community and Rhodes is not the only school doing that,” Smoli stressed.