The president of a historically Black university in Ohio gave the 2020 and spring 2021 graduating classes one more reason to celebrate at the end of Saturday’s commencement ceremony: their debt to the university had been paid.
Wilberforce University used funds from the United Negro College Fund, the Jack and Jill Foundation and other sources to clear more than $375,000 in debt, according to a statement from the school.
The gift doesn’t include federal loans, bank loans or other personal loans taken out by the student. The funds will cover fines, fees and tuition balances that were being paid directly to the university by students or their parents, CNN reported.
“We wish to give you a fresh start,” Wilberforce President Elfred Anthony Pinkard told the students, eliciting cheers and applause. “And you don’t owe Wilberforce anything. Congratulations.”
Rodman Allen, one of the 166 students who graduated Saturday, said in a release he’s going to use the money to invest in his future.
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it. It’s a blessing,” Allen said. “I’m not worried.”
Black college graduates have an average of $52,000 in student loan debt, an average of $25,000 more than their white peers, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. HBCUs like Wilberforce disproportionately enroll students from low-income families who generally borrow more in student loans and have higher debt than their peers, according to the United Negro College Fund.
The student debt crisis is crushing Black Americans: Here’s how loan forgiveness could help
Advocates have called on the Biden administration to take a targeted approach to student debt forgiveness to help Black Americans build wealth and narrow the racial wealth gap. Biden unveiled a slate of new policies meant to promote racial equity Tuesday on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, but the plan did not address student loan debt.
“Components of the plan are encouraging, but it fails to address the student loan debt crisis that disproportionately affects African Americans,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, told the Washington Post. “You cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan debt crisis.”
The unexpected surprise at Wilberforce mirrors recent initiatives at other HBCUs. Last month, Delaware State University announced it would use stimulus funds to forgive more than $730,000 of debt for recent graduates who struggled financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2019, billionaire Robert F. Smith announced his family would pay off all the student loan debt for the graduates of Morehouse College during their commencement.
Graduates react after hearing billionaire technology investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith say he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) ORG XMIT: GAATJ901 (Photo: Steve Schaefer, AP)
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