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Wilberforce University surprises graduates by writing off $ 375,000 in debt owed to university


The president of a historically black Ohio university gave the 2020 and spring 2021 graduates one more reason to celebrate at the end of Saturday’s opening ceremony: Their debt to the university had been paid.

Wilberforce University has used funds from the United Negro College Fund, the Jack and Jill Foundation and other sources to write off more than $ 375,000 in debt, according to a school statement.

The donation does not 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 paid directly to the university by students or their parents, CNN reported.

“We want 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.”

Da’Marco Barksdale, one of 166 students who attended graduation on Saturday, knew his college debt could follow him long after graduation and said he was shocked to hear the ad. Barksdale, a 24-year-old mass communication student, said that since he had no other outstanding loans, the gift would relieve him of all his student debt.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “It’s like we’ve just won the Super Bowl.”

Barksdale, from Dayton, Ohio, said he always wanted to attend an HBCU and Wilberforce felt like family. Now that he’s out of debt, he hopes to pursue a masters and doctorate degree and start a career in sports journalism.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, black graduates have an average of $ 52,000 in student debt, $ 25,000 more than their white peers. HBCUs like Wilberforce disproportionately enroll students from low-income families who typically borrow more on student loans and have higher debt than their peers, according to the United Negro College Fund.

Student Debt Crisis Crashes 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 close the racial wealth gap. Biden unveiled a list of new policies designed to promote racial equity on Tuesday on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, but the plan did not address student loan debt.

“The elements of the plan are encouraging, but it does not address the student loan debt crisis that disproportionately affects African Americans,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, told the Washington Post. “You can’t start closing the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan debt crisis.”

Wilberforce’s unexpected surprise mirrors recent initiatives from other HBCUs. Delaware State University announced last month that it would use stimulus funds to write off more than $ 730,000 in debt for recent graduates who have struggled financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, billionaire Robert F. Smith announced that his family would pay off all student loan debts of Morehouse College graduates when they take office.

Graduates are reacting after hearing billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith say he will provide grants to erase student debt from the entire class of 2019 at Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday, May 19, 2019. ( Steve Schaefer / Atlanta Journal- Constitution via AP) ORG XMIT: GAATJ901

After: Who is Robert F. Smith, the billionaire behind Morehouse’s graduation giveaway?

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wilberforce University Clears School Debt for 2020 and 2021 Graduates


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