Many students at the end of their college tenure find themselves in a financial bind: they come up short on their bill, and despite having completed their courses, they are unable to officially graduate until the balance is paid off. This also can prevent them from walking in their commencement ceremonies with their friends and peers, which can be a crushing blow to both students and families eager to see them.
This year, there are 180 seniors at Howard University in such a situation. But instead of quietly struggling alone, these students got some unexpected help from an unexpected place.
Late last month, the President of the University, Wayne A.I. Frederick, sent a personal e-mail to thousands of alumni informing them of the Howard seniors’ dilemma. And he asked those alumni if they could donate to their cause.
“This promising group of aspiring professionals desperately needs your assistance in becoming financially cleared to participate in the May 2015 Commencement Exercises. I am asking for your support in helping to remove the impediment to their graduation,” Frederick wrote in his e-mail. “We will fulfill 23 cases at a time and continue to work steadily until all 180 students are able to celebrate this momentous milestone along with their classmates, as they have all devoted many years of effort and sacrifice to arrive at this juncture.”
President Frederick’s e-mail also included a brief description of what appeared to be the first round of 23 students. He did not list them by name, though he did include their hometown, major, and unique financial and academic circumstances, such as their GPA. For example, Student B owes “$8,095.11 due to family financial and other issues.” Student O, “despite personal and financial challenges . . . has worked hard” but still can’t afford the $437.50 they owe. Student J’s family had an EFC (expected family contribution) of zero going into college, “so the University has awarded her several need-based grants,” but a balance of $6,659.50 still remains. Student U owes $27,871.75, the highest balance documented. And so on and so forth.
The 180 students’ total debt is approximately $380,000; thus far, at least $160,000 has been donated to meet the need. Howard’s annual donations typically hover around $15 million, but the school has been struggling financially in recent years, and they have also become more lax in allowing students to carry a balance, as have other institutions in the wake of the Great Recession.
The school typically steps in to try and help if a student owes $5,000 or more by the end the spring semester, and if the issue is unresolved, the student will not be allowed to resume classes in the fall, Howard’s Executive Director of Student Financial Services Derek R. Kindle told the Washington Post. He noted that many students would be unable to matriculate without such flexible payment plans.
The Washington Post reports that multiple seniors affected have had their debt paid by alumni donations, including one young woman, Shantal Y. Rose aka Student F, who owed $353. “I was ecstatic,” Rose says. (You can learn more about her and her family’s story here.)
Howard’s 2015 commencement ceremony is scheduled for this coming Saturday, May 9.