WILBERFORCE — Wilberforce University is sending its newest graduating classes home with a huge gift and peace of mind.

At the end of Saturday’s commencement exercises, President Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard announced to the 2020 and 2021 new alumni that their debt owed to the university has been settled and carries a zero balance.

The university’s debt-erasing dollars are resourced from various scholarships such as the United Negro College Fund, Inc., Jack and Jill, Inc., and other institutional funding to help students from last year’s spring and fall semesters and spring 2021 with higher education finances, according to the school.

Last spring, during the initial COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, all Wilberforce students were relieved of financial pressure through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), set up through the CARES Act, which provided emergency financial aid for colleges and universities. This specifically helped students whose bursar office balance would have prohibited them from registering for the upcoming fall classes.

The debt relief means a brighter financial future for graduates.

“I couldn’t believe it when he said it. It’s a blessing. I know God will be with me. I’m not worried. I can use that money and invest it into my future,” said 2021 WU Alumnus Rodman Allen.

The total tally that has been cleared from all Wilberforce students enrolled in 2020 and 2021 exceeds $375,000. That, the president said, will move these students in a positive budgetary direction.

According to the advocacy organization ProgressNow, students with outstanding student debt are 36 percent less likely to buy a home or less likely to take out car loans. Canceling student debt stimulates the economy because potential borrowers are encouraged to spend more.

“As these graduates begin their lives as responsible adults, we are honored to be able to give them a fresh start by relieving their student debt to the university,” Pinkard said.