Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College clear student balances

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Two of Atlanta’s HBCUs are clearing students’ account balances from the previous school year in recognition of the difficulties students and their families are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clark Atlanta University announced Friday it is wiping out balances for the 2020 semesters and the spring and summer 2021 semesters. Spelman College did the same for its students with balances covering the 2020-2021 academic year.

Clark Atlanta President George T. French Jr. wrote in a letter to students that the decision was made as a gesture to thank them for continuing their education during the coronavirus pandemic.

When COVID-19 became a public health crisis in March 2020, the two institutions, along with Morehouse College in the Atlanta University Center, moved classes online and continued that policy through the end of the year. The AUC schools reopened with a limited number of students on campus during the recent spring semester.

“The past two academic years have been emotionally and financially challenging for you and your families due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” French wrote. “I understand. That is why I am personally thankful for your resilience, perseverance, and ‘find a way or make one’ attitudes.”

Spelman is using federal funds to cover the outstanding balances, President Mary Schmidt Campbell said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. French’s letter does not specifically explain how Clark Atlanta is covering the cost of the balances, but alludes to federal support the school and others nationwide have received to help them through the pandemic. Clark Atlanta received more than $16 million in recovery funds in the American Rescue Plan; Spelman received about $7.4 million.

Most importantly, Campbell said, Spelman also implemented a one-time 14% discount of tuition and fees for all students during the 2020-2021 school year. For the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 18, Spelman has rolled tuition and mandatory fees back to 2017-2018 rates.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

“Spelman recognizes that the last year has been especially difficult for both students and families,” Campbell said, and rolling back the tuition rate will have a “long-term impact on affordability.”

A few other HBCUs, including Delaware State, South Carolina State and Wilberforce universities, have taken similar actions to clear student debt or accounts in recent months. All three undergraduate Atlanta HBCUs also created emergency funds for students in the early days of the pandemic.

Clark Atlanta has about 4,000 students, the largest enrollment of any private historically Black college or university in Georgia. Roughly 58% of its students receive federal Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college. About 47% of Spelman’s more than 2,100 students receive those grants.

Atlanta’s HBCUs have received unprecedented levels of donations in recent months from major companies and philanthropic organizations as part of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to address racial inequities in education. MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $15 million to Clark Atlanta in December, its largest single philanthropic gift in the school’s history. Spelman and Morehouse each received $20 million from Scott in similar gifts.