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Some universities canceling student debt

August 05, 2021

In an unexpected turn of events, some college students around the country have been logging into their accounts to check on account balances and finding them canceled. Many institutions of higher education across the country have been taking advantage of federal assistance provided through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief funds (HEERF) to cancel student debt. HEERF I, II and III represent three programs that Congress appropriated to higher education to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including emergency financial grants to students.

The City University of New York said it is providing one of the largest debt-forgiveness programs in the nation due to the pandemic in its announcement of the CUNY Comeback Program, a plan to erase as much as $125 million in outstanding tuition and fee balances for more than 50,000 CUNY students who experienced grave hardships during the pandemic using HEERF funds.

Other examples of universities using the HEERF funds to cancel student debt include:

  • The Community College of Philadelphia will use $2.75 million in stimulus funds to pay off outstanding balances for as many as 3,500 of its students;
  • Delaware State University is canceling almost $750,000 in student debt;
  • West Virginia State University used $816,000 to pay off balances for students attending from March 13, 2020, through the sumer 2021 term;
  • Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College in Atlanta wiped out balances for students from 2020 and 2021 semesters;
  • Southern University at Shreveport, Louisiana, is using about $3.5 million in federal relief money to eliminate student debt for anyone who attended over the past year; and,
  • The Washington Post identified 150 schools who have used the federal money to pay outstanding student balances, but speculates the number is higher.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced $3.2 billion in additional emergency grants under the  Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which will support students who attend over 1,800 institutions of higher education and provide resources to help the institutions recover from the pandemic. Of that, $2.97 billion from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) will provide $1.6 billion to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), $143 million to Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and another $1.19 billion to Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and under-resourced institutions eligible for the Strengthening Institutions Programs, many of which are community colleges. The additional appropriation brought the total amount of funding made available to colleges under the HEERF to more than $76 billion.

More information about the HEERF is available here.

higher ed, coronavirus, debt, funding