“Some of you will be leaving us with a whole lot of debt that some of your predecessors, and I want you to understand how much, how important that is to us, allowing you to go out into the world, and get off to a much better start than you might otherwise. And for those of you who are staying with us, that’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for you as well,” Florida A&M President Larry Robinson told students in his speech.
“Clearing student account balances from the previous school year was a way of practicing our motto of ‘Excellence with Caring’ by supporting students and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic,” vice president for student affairs William Hudson Jr. said in a statement. “It keeps them from having to get loans to pay off their unpaid balance. It’s been a tough year for our students and their families.”
It’s unclear how many students were helped by this move from the school, but the press release shares that money went to tuition, fees, and unpaid student balances. Other colleges that have taken similar actions include Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, and South Carolina State University.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black college graduates have an average of $52,000 in student loan debt. Compared to white graduates, Black students owe an average of $25,000 more. More than half of Black students say their student loan debt is greater than their net worth, and within four years of graduation, close to half of Black students owe 12% more than what they borrowed, while nearly all white borrowers owe 13% less than what they took out.
And as most know, this cycle just bleeds into an even bigger snowball. If you’re paying back your student loans, you generally have less buying “power” when it comes to, say, trying to own a home. Paying back student debt—especially when we consider sky-high interest—can also be a barrier in terms of putting money toward retirement or building generational wealth. In fact, student loan debt can be a major barrier to simple survival.
Talking about student loans feels especially timely now, as many Democrats are wondering when President Joe Biden will finally act on the student loan forgiveness he campaigned on. Forgiving $10,000 in federal student loan debt is, for many folks, meager. But it is something, and it is something Biden himself has supported in the past.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer are still pushing Biden to go further and forgive $50,000 in federal loan debt via executive action, which would be a much nicer chunk. Frankly, the push for Biden to use his executive authority to forgive all of the (federal) student debt would be the nicest move of all and would do the most to actually reduce the racial wealth divide. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently made waves for suggesting that Biden wasn’t able to cancel any amount of debt, the recent word is still that information is being gathered on his legal authority to do so.
You can check out a stream of Florida A&M University’s commencement below, including the announcement of the $16 million in relief.