Delaware State University will spend $2.9 million of its federal COVID-19 funds to help students avoid piling up more debt to attend college.
About 1,100 students will qualify for payments. Those who are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning they have exceptional financial need, will receive $2,500. Qualifying students who are not will get $1,000.
Nearly half of DSU’s student are Pell Grant eligible.
The move requires students to accept the money before it can be given to them.
“What happens now is that students have to open that email, agree to accept the money, and check the box permitting us to apply it to their outstanding debts,” said Antonio Boyle, vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management, in a press release. “From that point, the process is essentially automatic, but they have to act.”
Tysun Hicks, a senior accounting major from Lincoln, Del., said in a press release that he’s one of many students who are thankful for the financial help that allows them to focus on completing degrees with less stress over money.
“I know a lot of other students feel the same way I do,” Hicks said. “It’s great to know that our University has our back.”
This is the second time in 2021 that DSU has helped pay student debt.
In May, Delaware State became the first Historically Black College or University in the nation to make $735,000 available to clear the debts of 225 graduating seniors. The move sparked a nationwide round of HBCU debt cancellation, reaching tens of thousands of students at more than 20 other institutions, the press release said.
“What we most want students and their parents to understand about this round of funding is the significance of this opportunity,” said Boyle. “This funding allows students to work through a range of needs related to their education, the most significant of which is the ability to wipe out several thousand dollars in debt at one keystroke.”
President Tony Allen said the debt relief will not be a one-time event.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve recognized our responsibility to make it possible for our students to keep moving toward graduation despite the tuition costs, housing, food and tech insecurities that COVID-19 put in their way,” he said in the release. “With the constant advocacy of our Congressional delegation, the strong support of our corporate partners, and the unprecedented outpouring of giving from our alumni, we’ve been able to keep pace with their needs.”
The university’s CARES Act money can be used for a range of hardships, including tuition and housing expenses.
In addition to federal cash, the University also has been phenomenally successful in raising other money in the last two years.
Between March-June 2020, the University raised over $1.6 million in private funding for a University-sponsored Student Emergency Relief Fund. That fund provided instant support for students faced with moving off campus. DSU also distributed more than $200,000 worth of laptops, tablets and portable WiFi devices to students who needed them to work from home.
In addition, University offered an additional $3.3 million in direct financial support to students throughout 2020.
The university pointed to a Brookings Institution study that said student debt not only is the primary cause of Black students not finishing college but that those debts are also “delaying or even preventing Black Americans from building wealth.”
“Bridging the gap of a few thousand dollars, or sometimes as little as a few hundred, can be decisive in terms of keeping these young people in school and on track to graduate,” said Anas Ben Addi, the University’s chief financial officer. “Finding ways to do that is integral to the HBCU mission of enhancing social mobility.”
DSU said it had invested nearly $8.5 million in supporting students through the pandemic.
“We aren’t finished yet,” Allen said. “As we continue to be supported by the administration and congress, we will revisit the debt needs of our students, and we will be emphasizing to them and their families that managing these debts is critical to their ultimate success in achieving their dreams.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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