Morehouse, Savannah State clear student account balances

Graduates and family fill the Century Campus at Morehouse College during the 137th commencement that celebrates the classes of 2020 and 2021 on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Morehouse will clear outstanding balances for students covering each semester since the start of the pandemic. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Graduates and family fill the Century Campus at Morehouse College during the 137th commencement that celebrates the classes of 2020 and 2021 on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Morehouse will clear outstanding balances for students covering each semester since the start of the pandemic. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Morehouse College and Savannah State University announced Monday they have cleared account balances for students who owed money for each semester since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. The schools join the list of historically Black colleges and universities in Georgia that have taken similar steps in recent weeks.

“In light of the challenges that so many of our students and their families have faced during the pandemic, our goal is to help our scholars continue to progress educationally and move forward in their collegiate and professional pursuits,” Morehouse College President David A. Thomas said in a statement. “As we eagerly anticipate reuniting with our students for an in-person living and learning experience this fall, along with the launch of our online bachelor’s degree classes, we will continue to create innovative ways to ensure that the cost of college never overshadows talent.”

Savannah State President Kimberly Ballard-Washington said she’s thrilled to provide this financial relief to students.

“From the start of the pandemic, our faculty and staff have been focused on protecting students’ health and wellbeing and worked to provide technical support that allowed them to continue their education virtually and in the classroom,” she said in a statement. “Now we have been able to provide this additional and much-needed support to students whose education was interrupted because of COVID-19.”

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Savannah State University interim president Kimberly Ballard-Washington. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Savannah State University interim president Kimberly Ballard-Washington. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

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Savannah State University interim president Kimberly Ballard-Washington. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Both schools said they are using funding provided by the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to clear the balances. The federal government in March 2020 approved about $14 billion in the fund to help financially struggling college students and their schools through the pandemic. An additional $21 billion was added to the fund in January.

Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State University and Spelman College are among the Georgia schools that have cleared account balances for students during the same time period.

ExploreClark Atlanta University, Spelman College clear student balances

Savannah State, a public university with about 3,500 students, said the balances of 220 former students were cleared, a total of just over $331,000. Morehouse, a private college for men with about 2,200 students, declined to say how many students will be impacted by the decision to clear the balances, which took effect Friday. The college said it does not affect payments made or due for the fall 2021 semester and does not refund payments already made to resolve past due balances.

Both schools, like many HBCUs, enroll a higher percentage of students from low-income households. About 80% of Savannah State students and 64% of Morehouse students have taken federal student loans to pay their college costs, according to federal data.

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