WILBERFORCE, Ohio (WDTN) – Wilberforce University graduates from the class of 2020 and 2021 were overcome with joy and emotions upon hearing that any debts to their school would be forgiven.
Wilberforce University President, Elbert Anthony Pinkard, says he was excited to hold on to the secret and once he got approval from the University’s Board of Trustees, he knew it would be a moment of great celebration.
Wilberforce University, a historically Black University, has been helping its students with financial aid since the beginning of the pandemic. Students were refunded for food and housing when the campus was shut down in 2020. Since March of 2020, scholarships and other institutional funding provided for more than 90 percent of student’s school bills.
Now, thanks to funding from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Jack and Jill Inc. and other institutional funding, more than $375,000 worth of student debt owed to the university was cleared.
“During the ceremony I was thinking, ‘I have to pay all this debt back…I have to get a job…[but] as soon as Dr. Pinkard said ‘debt free’ I didn’t have to worry about anything else,’” shared Joshua Spears, who graduated from Wilberforce this weekend.
While students will still be responsible for federal loans and debts owed to other organization, students say this gift is helping them to start the next phase of their lives on a brighter note.
“I have more access to sign on [for] things that I want, especially getting a credit card to build more credit,” said Spears.
Pinkard says they were grateful to be able to help students, especially after a difficult year navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
“Having to leave school and then doing school online then coming back…we didn’t get to do as many activities [and this was] my last year as an undergrad,” said Ah’Niya Arnett, who also graduated Wilberforce recently. “Now, I won’t have to worry about owing Wilberforce [anything].”
“They did not allow a global pandemic to derail their journey to complete their college education and I think that’s an incredible acknowledgement of their resilience and their fortitude,” said Dr. Pinkard.
A majority of Wilberforce’s student population is African-American, a group disproportionately impacted by student loan debt. Statistics show that balances for African-American women can take up to 111 percent of their first year income. And according to the American Association of University Women, Black women also have the highest student debt loan of any racial or ethnic group.
Now, with the gift that’s helping them move past these barriers, Pinkard is hoping it will inspire students to pay it forward.
“I hope that this show of our appreciation of their resilience and fortitude instills in them the willingness to reach back and help others as well,” he said.