‘We Wish to Give You a Fresh Start’: Historically Black Colleges and Universities Cancel Millions In School Debt for Nation’s Students

Countless students around the nation are breathing a sigh of relief — with many of them starting life post-college less burdened by debt. That’s thanks to news from the U.S. Department of Education, which announced in April that between the Cares Act and the American Rescue Plan, Historically Black Colleges and Universities would receive $5 billion from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

This relief fund kicked off a host of HBCUs recently announcing student debt cancellation. This debt relief was a result of the federal Cares Act Plan, a fund created when the Cares Act was signed into law last year as part of a wide-ranging COVID-19 relief package.

In Ohio, Wilberforce University, a private historically black university, surprised its graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 by clearing their school debt.

“Because you represent the best of your generation, we wish to give you a fresh start. So, therefore, the Wilberforce University Board of Trustees has authorized me to forgive any debt. Your accounts have been cleared and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything,” said Wilberforce University President Elfred Anthony Pinkard.

The announcement was made at the May 29 commencement ceremony, during which 166 students graduated.

Wilberforce says it was able to clear more than $375,000 in student debt with the help of scholarships from the United Negro College Fund and Jack and Jill of America, along with other funding.

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee is the latest HBCU to join the trend. President Larry Robinson announced on July 31 that the university spent more than $16 million to cover fees, tuition and unpaid student account balances during the 2020-2021 school year.

Wilberforce University clears student loan debt for the 2020-2021 school year. (Photo: Wilberforce University)

“It’s a huge deal as a student who took out student loans when I was in school; it’s a very big impact to have less debt when you graduate,” says FAMU Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. William E. Hudson Jr.

Added to the list of HBCUs eliminating student debt is Clark Atlanta University. The school says federal funds from the Cares Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund have allowed it to provide relief for students over the last two years. Those funds will eliminate student account balances from the previous five semesters.

South Carolina State University also announced plans to clear nearly $10 million of student debt for more than 2,500 continuing students.

Delaware State University said in May that it would cancel more than $700,000 loans for recent graduates, according to CNN.

And Shaw University in North Carolina says it plans to cover summer tuition for more than 400 students, according to local news source WNCN-TV.

In addition to HBCUs, another group of colleges in Connecticut also cancelled student debt for its students.

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities will cancel $17 million in student debt for community college students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Connecticut State Colleges and Universities paid for the student debt forgiveness with funds from the federal grant program higher education emergency relief fund that helps colleges and universities to discharge student debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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