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Anonymous Donor Pays Off Student Debt For Entire Graduating Class: 'You No Longer Have a Balance'

Graduates of the Wiley College class of 2022 were in for a major surprise over the weekend.


It's a sad but true fact that the celebration and sense of accomplishment that comes with graduating college also often means the looming realization that student loans and debt have not, in fact, magically gone away.

Victoria Ditkovsky | Shutterstock

But for the Wiley College Class of 2022, it looks like that's exactly what happened when an anonymous donor cleared the balances of the graduating class.

Wiley, which is a historically black college located in Marshall, Texas, hosted its 133rd Commencement Convocation over the weekend, where more than 100 students were set to walk the stage and earn their diplomas.

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Little did the graduates know, they would be receiving much more than just their degree.

"You are debt free, you do not owe the college a penny," Hermon J. Felton, president and CEO of Wiley College, told graduates in a surprise announcement during the ceremony. "If you have a balance, you had a balance. You no longer have a balance."

Felton's words were met with cheers and tears by the graduating class and their loved ones as it was revealed that students' balances were cleared by an anonymous donor.

Typical tuition, including room and board, costs $17,500 per student at Wiley, but the college reported that, due to pandemic-related challenges, many were unable to pay balances.

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"Our commitment to our students goes beyond their time while they are enrolled. We are constantly communicating with donors to assist students in these ways so that they can begin their after-college experience with less debt," Felton said in a statement on behalf of the institution. "We are grateful for this anonymous donor who will assist the students in paying off their balances to Wiley College and help us achieve institutional goals of graduating our students with little to no debt."

The college estimates that the overall total of balances owed by the class of 2022 was around $300,000.

HBCUs (particularly private ones, like Wiley College) rely heavily on donations and gifts from alumni and other donors as graduates of these universities are more likely to suffer from a generational wealth gap.

"Even for families where the parents are college educated and have had steady employment, because they got a later start being able to generate wealth, they're able to do less for the next generation," Morehouse College president David A. Thomas told U.S. News & World Report. "Their kids, their nephews, etc. The effects ripple through the communities. To the positives for the white community and very much to the negative for the Black community."

According to data from College Tuition Compare, the average tuition (and fees) for HBCU graduates is around $15,043 for out-of-state students, with 50 of the nation's HBCUs being public and 51 being private.

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