Why has the Student Health Plan payment system changed?

Date: August 2018


Dear Dean,

I’m a seventh-year graduate student with a TA appointment in my home department for the Fall semester. As of yet, I haven’t found a position for the Spring semester and intend to apply for Spring positions when they are listed (generally at the end of the Fall semester), as I have done in the previous year.

I’ve recently been informed that graduate students are required to pay the Student Health Plan fee for both semesters at the beginning of the academic year, in contrast to last year when we paid per semester. This new arrangement means that graduate students who don’t yet have a position for the Spring semester are asked to pay a little over $1,400 before they, hopefully, receive another teaching or research position. I have spoken with the SHP help desk and the bursar office, neither of which have been able to explain why this change has been made, and from which the only ‘solution’ I have been offered is the suggestion that I seek a student loan. I, however, don’t understand why the Graduate School has set up health payments in a manner that is complicated by the staggered assignment of TA appointments, as well as a manner that seriously complicates graduate student lives in these already stressful final stages of doctoral research. My question to the Dean is: why has the SHP payment system changed to the detriment of students who are no longer receiving guaranteed funding? 

Kind regards,

Jaded Graduate Student


Dear Jaded Graduate Student,

I received another version of this very same question earlier this week, so I’m glad to provide an answer as part of the “Ask a Dean” forum where other students will hopefully find the information helpful. I should first explain that the Graduate School does not directly set the university’s health insurance policy, define the insurance requirements, or decide when payments are due. Most of those responsibilities fall to the office of Student Health Benefits. Both the Graduate School and GPSA, however, do actively advocate for the needs of graduate and professional students as part of the Student Health Benefits Advisory Committee, where I and a number of graduate and professional student representatives raise issues and help inform decisions that impact the Student Health Plan and Student Health Fee. 

Cornell’s Student Health Plan (SHP) provides for 12 months of coverage that begins on August 1 and extends through July 31. The plan’s full-year premium has, as far as I know, always billed in July and due in August, as part of the university’s fall-semester charges that appear on student bursar accounts. In previous years, the Student Health Benefits office would, upon request, provide a special installment plan for graduate students who lacked full funding. The bursar office also offered an installment plan. It created confusion to have these two different options for spreading out payments and wasn’t very efficient either.

For this year, the bursar office will provide graduate students the option of paying a SHP premium over time when 50% of the charge is covered by a fall-semester fellowship or assistantship. I spoke with the bursar office and they responded, “any student that needs to pay their SHP insurance in installments can stop in our office to see a Bursar Account Representative. Students will have to pay the insurance balance by December 7, they can do that on a monthly payment plan that will run from August – December.” 

I’ve also been encouraging Cornell departments and graduate fields to, whenever possible, pay students’ full year SHP charges if there is a reasonable expectation that a student will be converted on a spring assistantship or fellowship. We understand that it won’t always be possible to know with certainty exactly which TA assignments will be made for next semester, so the credits might need to be adjusted in December or January. Since you are in your seventh year your field may no longer be able to guarantee your funding, and this option may not be possible, but it’s worth asking!

Good luck with your dissertation preparation, and let me know if I can be of further assistance.



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration