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Langston University cancels more than $4.5 million from student balances

<i>David McDaniel/USA TODAY NETWORK</i><br/>A statue of John Mercer Langston
David McDaniel / USA TODAY NETWO
A statue of John Mercer Langston

By Jalen Brown

Langston University announced this week it will clear student balances for a second time in recent years to “lessen the burden” of those enrolled in the school.

More than $4.5 million in student debt is being canceled at the historically Black university in Oklahoma, Langston President Kent J. Smith Jr. said Wednesday in a letter to the university community.

The initiative brings the amount of debt cleared by the university to more than $9.2 million over the past two years. In 2021, Langston officials cleared $4.6 million in debt, according to the university.

“Throughout the pandemic, our institution has sought ways to lessen the burden and remove barriers to degree completion for our students,” Smith said in his letter.

To make it possible, university officials are using funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a federal government program established in 2020 to financially support academic institutions through the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Smith.

The relief initiative will affect students enrolled throughout summer 2022, fall 2022, and spring 2023 semesters, Smith said. It includes “students not currently enrolled at the institution” as well as students with “any hold preventing them from receiving an official transcript due to a balance,” Smith wrote.

In a statement to CNN, Langston University said school officials saw an opportunity to remove a barrier and help its students, many of whom are first-generation college students. There were 1,900 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the fall 2022 semester, according to the university.

“All of our students and their families make sacrifices to attend college with the goal of earning a degree,” the university said in the statement. “We saw an opportunity to remove another barrier by choosing to direct a portion of our institutional HEERF grant funds to support our students.”

While it’s unclear how many students are impacted by the debt relief initiative, a few students whose balances have been cleared told CNN it has been a “blessing.”

London Brookins, a junior majoring in business marketing and nursing, said $12,000 was cleared from his balance this week.

“A lot of people have been happy for the past couple of days. We’ve been turned up and celebrating,” Brookins said. “A lot of people do find a lot of stress trying to figure out how to pay for school and come back.”

It was a “blessing from above” and it has taken a lot of stress off his shoulders, said Brookins, whose student balance was previously cleared in 2021.

Rebecca Gambor said she immediately called her mother earlier this week when $4,000 was cleared from her balance. The sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism said her mother picked up an extra job to help her pay for tuition.

“I love that she doesn’t have to work so hard for me and that the money can go somewhere else,” Gambor said.

Langston University is among several Historically Black Colleges and Universities that have used federal funding to clear the debt of its students to ease the financial burden of Black students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

In 2021, Clark Atlanta University said it received substantial amount of support under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which allowed it to help students.

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CNN’s Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.

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