Two North Carolina universities announced plans Thursday to cancel a combined $10.3 million in student debt, joining a growing list of historically Black colleges and universities that have forgiven student indebtedness in the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Johnson C. Smith University announced plans to erase about $300,000 owed by students enrolled between March 2020 through June 2021. North Carolina Central University cleared more than $10 million in outstanding tuition and fees and waived costs for its summer session for more than 5,200 students.
Why it matters: According to EducationData.org, student loan debt in the United States totals $1.73 trillion. Black students leave college owing, on average, about $52,000 — about $25,000 more, on average, than their white counterparts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
This latest round of debt forgiveness comes three weeks after Livingstone College announced that it would erase debts of students enrolled during its spring 2021 academic semester.
In a statement on Thursday, JCSU said many of its students face “financial uncertainty” brought on by the pandemic. In total, the statement said, JCSU has provided nearly $6.5 million to students in direct funding and debt relief.
At North Carolina Central, about $8 million was used to clear the debts of 3,832 students, the school said in a statement. An additional $2.4 million was earmarked for more than 1,450 students to cover the costs of summer session tuition and fees.
Much of the money used for debt relief at both schools came from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), part of the federal CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress in 2020 to combat the economic devastation brought on by the pandemic.
“Students have experienced unprecedented difficulties during (the) pandemic, and easing the financial burden of students will have a long-lasting impact,” NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said Thursday in a statement.
In an interview last month with HigherEd.com, Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, praised HBCUs for providing debt relief for students.
“These are students who have had some very difficult decisions to make, and this is a population that overall has been disproportionately impacted,” he was quoted as saying. “These institutions are showing a great deal of compassion and a great deal of leadership during a time of tremendous uncertainty for their student populations.”
For HBCU students impacted by debt forgiveness, the news came as a welcome surprise.
JCSU senior Davian Wright called it “a great decision.”
“Covid has changed so much about the world over the last year or so,” he said, “and a lot of people have suffered from financial struggles, and this just shows that the university cares about its students.”
Malik HosenDove, a junior at Livingstone College, said he was grateful for the debt forgiveness.
”This does directly impact me because I come from a low-income household, and we struggle paying for my tuition,” he said.
At North Carolina Central, Thaddeus Lee, a junior, said he was “extremely nervous at first.”
“After checking my cleared balance, I didn’t have to worry about anything else but my classes,” he said. “Central really covered everything.”
Here’s what some other HBCUs have done in the way of debt relief:
- Fayetteville State University cleared almost $1.7 million in unpaid tuition and fees for 1,442 students.
- South Carolina State University erased $9.8 million in student debts for more than 2,500 students.
- Clark Atlanta University cleared balances for students enrolled Spring 2020 through Summer 2021.
- Spelman College cleared outstanding student balances for the 2020-2021 academic year.
- Elizabeth City State University cleared $284,500 worth of debt and fees for 212 students enrolled since May 2020.
- Delaware State University waived at least $930,000 in debt for members of the class of 2020 and spring 2021 graduates.
- Shaw University helped 57 graduating seniors clear $195,330 worth of student debt.
- Wilberforce University canceled more than $375,000 in debt for its 2020 and 2021 graduates.