Posted on July 29, 2021

HBCUs Deploy Covid-19 Pandemic Funds to Forgive Millions in Student Debt

Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2021

Almost all 2,000 students at South Carolina State University owed money to the school by the end of spring semester this year. Some owed less than a dollar, others were hundreds or even thousands of dollars past due on expenses such as tuition payments and housing fees.

Without paying off the bills, many students couldn’t register for the next term or, in the case of seniors, get their diplomas.

The school said this month it had wiped away $9.8 million in debt for more than 2,500 students {snip}

Historically Black colleges and universities, such as South Carolina State, are springing students from the academic version of debtor’s prison, clearing their account balances so they can continue on with, or complete, school. More than 20 HBCUs are using federal pandemic funds for debt relief, according to a tally by the United Negro College Fund, a scholarship organization for private historically Black colleges and universities.

HBCUs received $2.6 billion of the $40 billion set aside for higher education under this spring’s American Rescue Plan Act. Their students are overwhelmingly from low-income backgrounds, and many are first-generation college students; schools were told to give priority to the neediest students when distributing a portion of the funds and say these students were hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic downturn.

Fayetteville State University in North Carolina cleared almost $1.7 million in unpaid tuition and fees for 1,442 students. Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., a predominantly Black institution, erased the balances of 400 students, for $1.8 million. And Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., spent nearly $2 million clearing debts for almost 500 recent graduates and continuing students.


The debts being forgiven only include money owed directly to schools, and not loans made by the federal government. {snip}


Many students who attend HBCUs are in “delicate and fragile financial situations,” where a bill for a few hundred dollars can be an insurmountable obstacle, said Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund. “Financial barriers are the top reason why our students do, on occasion, stop out,” he said.


{snip} He called the influx of cash “a godsend” for the schools and the students they serve.