Sunday morning, Alynnda Williams got a notice from her Delaware State University student account telling her something had changed.
The Philadelphia resident clicked on it, expecting to see a small COVID-relief payment applied to the nearly $12,000 balance.
Instead, the balance read zero.
At first, she was confused. Then the social work major who graduated Saturday realized that DSU was telling her that it was paying off her debt, to give a better start in life. Her mother started crying, saying it was a blessing.
Williams is one of 200 Delaware State University graduates whose college debt is being paid by the school.
DSU said it will spend $730,655 in COVID relief funds to help students who faced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The average eligible student will get about $3,276 in debt relief, said Antonio Boyle, vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management.
“Too many graduates across the country will leave their schools burdened by debt, making it difficult for them to rent an apartment, cover moving costs, or otherwise prepare for their new careers or graduate school,” Boyle said in a press release. “While we know our efforts won’t help with all of their obligations, we all felt it was essential to do our part.”
“It was really so much weight lifted off my shoulders,” Williams said Wednesday. “Because of the simple fact that I didn’t even know how I was going to pay for it.”
Even better, Williams said, she has not liked knowing that her mother has been burdened by the pressure of her daughter’s college finances.
“So knowing that I just took that stress off her on Mother’s Day, that just meant so much to me,” said Williams.
The university is using money from the federal American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 relief to pay student debt.
“Our students don’t just come here for a quality college experience,” said DSU President Tony Allen in a press release. “Most are trying to change the economic trajectory of their lives for themselves, their families and their communities. Our responsibility is to do everything we can to put them on the path.”
“Great universities have to go a step beyond ordinary,” said Dr. Devona Williams, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees. “This is that kind of moment for us.”
Williams seconds those feelings.
“Honestly, it just shows when you do good, God will really bless you in return,” Williams said. “I gave my heart to Delaware State University from the moment I got here, so it feels really good that this was given back to me, a debt-free graduation gift from Delaware State University, and I love it so much.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 11)
Having the pandemic hit in the middle of her junior year was a shock, Williams said.
“But of course, we made the best of it,” she said. “We didn’t let anything stop us. The school didn’t let anything stop us. They allowed us to be here and make sure we gained both the enjoyment of college and also the knowledge that we needed to graduate.”
Debt reduction is consistent with Delaware State University initiatives to keep student debt manageable, Allen said.
“We haven’t raised our tuition in over six years; we issue every incoming student an iPad or a MacBook; we are replacing traditional textbooks with less expensive digital editions, and our Early College High School saves the average family of nearly $50,000 in college expenses,” he said.
Last year US News &. World Report ranked DSU among the top 1% of the nation’s colleges in social mobility, which is defined as “enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students.”
The press release said 87% of DSU’s students have a job in their field or are going to graduate school within six months of graduating.
She is in the process of earning a master’s in social work at DSU and hopes to find an internship in the field.
“DSU never ceases to amaze me, and I’m just so thankful that I chose this HBCU,” Williams said.
She hasn’t gotten over the delight of Sunday’s surprise.
“I just keep looking at my bill,” she said.
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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