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‘If You Have a Balance, You Had a Balance’: Anonymous Donor Pays Wiley College 2022 Graduates’ Debt to the School

An anonymous donor has gifted graduating seniors from one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Texas with immediate access to a debt-free future. The philanthropist in one clean swoop erased an estimated $300,000 worth of balances owed by the students at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.

Wiley students at graduation (Wiley College IG Page Screengrab)

On Saturday, May 7 during the institution’s 133rd commencement at the Pemberton Sports Complex Field, more than 100 students as part of the graduating class learned from president and CEO Herman J. Felton that their debts had been cleared, according to a press release. It’s all thanks to a donation from an unnamed angel donor.

Immediately after Felton broke the news to the Class of 2022, the college shared the announcement on social media.

A video posted on the school’s Facebook page read, “Congratulations 2022 Graduates, YOU ARE DEBT FREE! Go Forth Inspired, glorious deeds to do. #wileygrad22 #wileycollege #hbcu #hbcugrad #hbcupride #goforthinspired.”

“You are debt-free. You do not owe the college a penny. If you have a balance, you had a balance. You no longer have a balance,” Felton said to a cheering crowd at the graduation.

In a statement, he shared, “Our commitment to our students goes beyond their time while they are enrolled. We are constantly communicating with donors to assist students in these ways so that they can begin their after-college experience with less debt.”

He added, “We are grateful for this anonymous donor who will assist the students in paying off their balances to Wiley College. And help us achieve institutional goals of graduating our students with little to no debt.”

Founded in 1873 by the United Methodist Church, Wiley College was named in honor of the late Bishop Issac T. Wiley who was a minister, medical missionary and educator. In 1880, it moved to the location where it currently stands, on 55 acres in Marshall.

The school, which is preparing to celebrate its sesquicentennial year, noted it reduced the cost to matriculate at the institution over the “past years” to $17,500. This five-figure number now covers tuition, fees and room and board. However, with the economic complications prompted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, students still struggled to make ends meet.

Another way the school has endeavored to help students, particularly prospective wildcats, is by waiving the application fees. In an additional effort to lighten students’ financial loads, traditional incoming and transfer students are eligible to receive the President’s Promise, a scholarship up to $2,500.

Wiley College gained national acclaim in 2007, when the movie “The Great Debaters” starring Denzel Washington hit theaters. The film was based on the school, whose motto is “Go forth inspired,” and its 1935 debate team that beat the University of Southern California’s top-ranked team, during the height of segregation.

Almost a decade after the film, one of the school’s stars, Nate Parker, launched a film program on the lush campus.

The donor is one of few charitable givers who are donating private dollars to alleviate debt from graduates. One donor is billionaire Robert Smith, who in 2019 gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College and promised to wipe away student loan debt of the 2019 graduates, a gift totaling more than $34 million.

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