“You are debt-free”: These HBCU students just got the best graduation gift

A 300K donation to Wiley College just changed the game for the class of 2022.

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More Money Less Problems
ByClarissa Brooks
Originally Published: 

Graduation season is upon us, which means students all across the country are celebrating their years of hard work — and also most likely staring down the barrel of terrifying debt. Wiley College’s class of 2022, however, won’t be among those stressed over loans.

Students at the HBCU in Marshall, Texas were met with cleared balances as they hit graduation stage because of a donor who gifted them $300,000, which would wipe their college loan debt from existence. Wiley College, known most notably for its historic debate made famous by the 1997 film The Great Debaters, is a gem of Black scholarship in the legacy of HBCUs.

“Wiley College Class of 2022 graduated today with not only their degree but with their balances cleared by an anonymous donor,” a press release stated. “Over 100 students gathered on the Pemberton Sports Complex Field to participate in Wiley College’s 133rd Commencement Convocation and were surprised when they were informed that their balances were cleared by President & CEO Herman J. Felton, Jr. J.D., Ph.D.”

As President Feltom announced the debt cancellation to graduates in a now viral clip, students screamed and hollered in celebration of the news that their debts had been cleared. “If you have a balance, you had a balance,” Felton said, to the shocked and delighted students.

The joyful moment felt reminscent of the 2019 class at Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU in Atlanta, who had their debts cleared by Black billionaire Robert Smith. The gift of loan clearing shifted the material conditions for graduates facing identical pressures post-graduation as those at Wiley College.

While moments of celebration and relief are beautiful to witness, it speaks to the mounting financial burdens students are taking on to achieve in order to possibly be able to afford their monthly repayment plans. The reality is that Black graduates face a very different set of conditions when it comes to student debt. Ass many of them climb the ladder of social mobility, they grapple with the a disparity in financial burdens.

As Braxton Brewington, an organizer with The Debt Collective states in his op-ed for Teen Vogue. “Because student debt is racially regressive — Black borrowers owe 100% more in student debt than white borrowers four years after graduating — canceling this debt would drastically narrow a widening racial wealth gap, closing the Black-white wealth gap for student loan borrowers by more than 25 percentage points.” Debt is not just a question of work ethic and saving but a matter of race, class, and economics. I can only hope that more people with the means can help level the playing feild like this anonymous, generous donor did.