Clark Atlanta to cancel student account balances using COVID-19 aid dollars


Clark Atlanta University announced that it will cancel all student balances from the past four semesters for all university graduates and continuing students.

The private historically Black research university sent out a letter to all students and alumni on Thursday announcing the news, saying that the move will help mitigate the debilitating circumstances that COVID-19 has caused for students.

“We understand these past two academic years have been emotionally and financially difficult on students and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said University President George T. French Jr in the letter. “That is why we will continue to do all we can to support their efforts to complete their CAU education.”

The initiative, which also applies to alumni of the school, will have no impact on student’s future financial aid eligibility.

The school is providing the relief as part of a larger initiative called Momentum. In the letter, the university states that a large amount of funding came from the CARES Act and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has enabled the university to support its students in a myriad of ways.

Some of those ways include refunding pro-rated housing charges, meal charges and parking for spring 2020, discounting tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year and providing emergency financial aid dollars directly to students.

In the announcement, French stated that the university teamed up with “policymakers from the U.S. Department of Education, both aisles of Congress, and higher education advocates to secure unprecedented federal funding.”

The CARES Act, which stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, was a 2.2 trillion dollar economic stimulus package passed in 2020 that included supplemental support for the American public, like stimulus payments, the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program and increased funding for unemployment benefits.

The bill also created a 14 billion dollar emergency relief fund for higher education institutions to provide grants for students to cover the cost of school, along with food, housing, child care and other expenses.

The bill had specific allocations (HEERF and HEERF II) for “strengthening historically Black colleges and universities,” which including both undergrad and master’s programs.

In the announcement, French said that the “academic and professional” future of Clark Atlanta students means a lot to the university. “We care about students and want to lighten their individual and family’s financial load so they can continue their journey in pursuing and attaining their educational and professional goals,” he added.

Clark Atlanta, which was founded in September 1865 and is the first HBCU in the southern United States, is just the latest HBCU to announce a widespread clearance of student debt. Earlier in July, Virginia State University announced that it will clear all unpaid tuition and fees from students from the 2020 to 2021 school year. In June, Wilberforce University announced that they will clear $375,000 for graduates in their 2020 and 2021 classes.

Story & Photo Credit: Aisha Powell/thegrio