The list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that have moved to clear student debt continues to grow. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, several institutions have announced a form of financial relief for students and families who were likely impacted by the severity of the coronavirus in one way or another. Clark Atlanta University is one of the most recent to reveal student account balances were cleared.
In a press release, the university announced student account balances for spring 2020–summer 2021 will be canceled and cleared. In addition to those accounts, the university is canceling all student account balances for spring 2020, summer 2020, fall 2020, spring 2021, and summer 2021 semesters by bringing them to a zero balance. The eligibility for future financial aid is not impacted by this initiative. The campus was able to use money received from the federal government under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to support this effort.
“The past two academic years have been emotionally and financially challenging for you and your families due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote CAU President George T. French Jr. in a letter issued to students. “I understand. That is why I am personally thankful for your resilience, perseverance, and ‘find a way or make one’ attitudes.”
Funds secured and established as the CAU “Momentum” program will also be made available to provide emergency aid directly to students, refund prorated residence charges for spring 2020, discount tuition fees for the 2020–2021 school year, and purchase laptops and hotspots for financially enrolled students.
Through unprecedented federal funding via the CARES Act & the Higher Education Relief Fund, Clark Atlanta University clears student account balances for Spring 2020, Summer 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, & Summer 2021 academic terms.
— Clark Atlanta Univ. (@CAU) July 25, 2021
Delaware State University was one of the first HBCUs to cancel student debt due to COVID-19 hardships. In May, the university announced it will cancel up to $730,655 in student debt for recently graduated students who have faced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the press release, Antonio Boyle, Vice President for Strategic Enrollment Management, estimated that the average eligible student will qualify for about $3,276 in debt relief through the initiative.
“Too many graduates across the country will leave their schools burdened by debt, making it difficult for them to rent an apartment, cover moving costs, or otherwise prepare for their new careers or graduate school. While we know our efforts won’t help with all of their obligations, we all felt it was essential to do our part,” said Mr. Boyle.
University President Dr. Tony Allen added, “Our students don’t just come here for a quality college experience. Most are trying to change the economic trajectory of their lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. Our responsibility is to do everything we can to put them on the path.”
Wilberforce University, the first private HBCU in the country shortly followed with its own gift to students. During the 2021 commencement in May, university President Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard revealed debt owed by students from the 2020 and 2021 academic year has been settled and carries a zero balance. The assistance came from various scholarships and other institutional funding according to a press release. The total cleared from all Wilberforce students enrolled in 2020 and 2021 exceeds $375,000.
In the statement, Dr. Pinkard said, “As these graduates begin their lives as responsible adults, we are honored to be able to give them a fresh start by relieving their student debt to the university.”
Spelman College has announced a similar program. The private HBCU for female students shared it cleared outstanding student balances from the 2020–2021 academic year with funds received from the federal government. The Atlanta college also implemented a 14 percent discount off tuition and fees, and reset tuition and mandatory fee rates back to 2017–2018 rates for the 2020–2021 academic year.
“This reset to the lower tuition rates of four years ago will have a long-term impact on affordability,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman.
She continued, “If 2020 taught us anything, it is that racial fault lines continue to make the lives of African Americans quantitatively harder than those of non-Black Americans.”
Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala. also announced the cancelation of a portion of student debt. In June, WBRC reported the college shared the decision to use CARES Act relief on behalf of the student body. The institution used $760,000 to clear balances for students enrolled in spring and fall of 2020 and spring 2021 with tuition balances and housing debt.
“It’s going to give so many students a fresh start and a new lease on their education and financial future. With so much going on about student debt, student debt is climbing across the country. This provides our students with a unique opportunity to continue their education while they minimize the debt to pay for that education,” said Dr. Tyshawn Gardner, Vice President for Student Affairs at Stillman College, according to the news outlet.
Saint Augustine’s University, a small, private school in North Carolina also announced students will return to less financial stress. The school shared all student account balances resulting from activity related to spring, summer, and the upcoming fall 2021 semesters will be cleared to reflect a zero-balance owed after all federal, state, and private awards have been considered, in a press release issued in late June.
“We are pleased to offer this timely support to our students,” said Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, President of Saint Augustine’s University. “At Saint Augustine’s University, we are committed to delivering on our promise to be one of the nation’s best universities for personalized education, student life and affordability.”
“This news means so much to our student body and their families,” said SC State Student Government Association President Javonni Ayers. “We are grateful that our administration decided to put the concerns of our students first and relieve the stress and burdens that most families experienced during this pandemic. We are giving our students another opportunity to chase and realize their dreams; and that’s what we call Bulldog tenacity.”
According to WRAL, Shaw University in North Carolina also made the move to clear $1 million in student debt.