More families consider college tuition insurance as campuses reopen during pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — College tuition is one of the largest investments many of us will make in our lifetimes.

But it’s also one of the few expenses most people don’t get insurance coverage for or in some cases, don’t even know about.

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The concept of tuition insurance isn’t new and it’s a similar concept to car and home insurance. Now it’s becoming more popular as college students head back to campus, but not necessarily classrooms, during the pandemic.

“What are the precautions? Were they going to be taking COVID tests before they moved into the dorms?”

Those are some of the concerns Tim Dunlap had as two of his four kids went off to college this year.

One of Dunlap’s sons just started his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee virtually. But his other son is a freshman at the University of Memphis and he wanted to have some sense of a college experience.

“Luckily he does have his room to himself so that was a plus,” said Dunlap.

With COVID-19 clusters popping up at other universities across the country, Dunlap said he’s concerned about his investment in tuition.

“You just don’t think about something like COVID-19 coming along and putting that tuition at risk,” he said.

And he’s not the only parent feeling this way.

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“For a couple hundred bucks, maybe a few hundred bucks that lumpsum is protected. You know, this is a lot of people’s savings or student loans,” said Natalie Tarangioli, GradGuard marketing & content.

Natalie Tarangioli works at GradGuard, a national specialty insurance marketing firm that offers insurance for college students and their families.

She said GradGuard has offered these benefits for medical withdrawals since 2009 but the company is getting a major increase in clients since the pandemic started in March.

Back then, Tarangioli said GradGuard worked with about 330 schools.

“Since then, until about a couple of weeks ago, is when it slowed down but we were signing five to ten new school partners a week,” said Tarangioli.

She said universities can work with them as a partner which would give students and parents the best rate but she said GradGuard will work with any student who wants the coverage.

Tarangioli said plans can start as low as $106 for $10,000 worth coverage each term.

This year, GradGuard extended its coverage to include COVID-19 covering refunds for tuition, on and off-campus room and board fees and other academic fees.

“We always hear about from time to time people staying in the hospital for months and months so god forbid one of these really horrible cases were to happen to a student that’s something that would be eligible for reimbursement because clearly they can’t continue their studies and a doctor would most likely tell them to leave,” she said.

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Tarangioli said this plan wouldn’t cover scenarios like fear of attending school because of COVID-19 or if a university switches from in-person to remote learning during the semester.

“This wouldn’t apply if a school says ‘oh student you may have been exposed to COVID so it’s best you quarantine’ because chances are you won’t complete a withdrawal too,” said Tarangioli. “A withdrawal is different from taking a break from school or dropping out, it’s a W on your transcript.”

Dunlap said he may have heard about tuition insurance in the past but now he’s doing some homework of his own.

“It’s definitely something that, you know you have to consider with the pandemic going on right now,” said Dunlap.

GradGuard said you must purchase tuition insurance before the semester starts if you want to get the benefits.