Wilberforce University, a privately owned HBCU in Ohio, surprised recent graduates over the weekend by canceling more than $375,000 in student debt.
University president Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard made the announcement during closing remarks at Saturday’s commencement ceremony, stunning the graduating students and their families.
“We wish to give you a fresh start,” Pinkard said. “Therefore, the Wilberforce University Board of Trustees has authorized me to forgive any debt.”
The crowd erupted into cheers, dancing and hugs. “Your accounts have been cleared,” Pinkard said. “And you don’t owe Wilberforce anything.”
The university said the money to erase the debt came from various scholarships, including the United Negro College Fund, Inc., Jack and Jill, Inc. and other funding to help the new 2020 and 2021 alumni.
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it,” recent grad Rodman Allen said in a news release. “It’s a blessing. I know God will be with me. I’m not worried. I can use that money and invest it into my future.”
Pinkard clarified in a statement on Monday that debt owed through any other source, which would include state and federal student loans, was not cleared. CBS News reached out to Wilberforce University for details on what student debt was forgiven.
Student loan debt has topped more than $1.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. More than 42 million Americans — roughly 1 in 8 — have student loans, according to the Department of Education. It’s the second largest amount of debt for households in the U.S. behind mortgages. Some Democratic lawmakers have been pushing President Joe Biden to forgive up to $50,000 per student in federal student loan debt, but it was left out of his budget request to Congress.
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