Local historically Black colleges spent COVID relief funds on student debt relief, technology and more

A rendering of the proposed Health and Wellness Center at Central State University. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
A rendering of the proposed Health and Wellness Center at Central State University. CONTRIBUTED

Two local colleges received $34 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Wilberforce — Ohio’s two historically Black colleges and universities, both located in Wilberforce in Greene County, received more than $34 million from the American Rescue Plan Act last year, which the universities used in part to forgive student debt.

On Monday, officials from President Joe Biden’s White House noted the one-year passage of the act and celebrated the funds specifically allocated to historically under-resourced universities and colleges across the country, including HBCUs, tribal colleges and others.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he had traveled around the U.S. in the past year and seen the funds allocated specifically to colleges and universities — called the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, or HEERF for short — made a huge difference.

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“Imagine what the number of students that wouldn’t be in school would be if it weren’t for the HEERF funds,” Cardona said, noting that many schools gave small grants directly to students.

Central State University got about $25 million in federal funds and Wilberforce University got about $8 million, according to the White House. About $2.7 billion was allocated specifically to the under-resourced universities and colleges in the ARPA.

“Central State University appreciates the federal funding support provided,” said Jack Thomas, president of Central State, in a statement. “We have worked diligently to ensure that these funds help ease the challenges brought on by the global pandemic to help students reduce the cost of attendance while building capacity to improve remote capability.”

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CSU spent about $4.1 million of the funds on student debt relief, the university said. They also spent about $3 million on IT infrastructure and remote learning software; $2 million on HVAC infrastructure; $3.5 million on enrollment incentives; $2.4 million on providing students with free books; $4.5 million on student support; $2 million on health and vaccination incentives, and $3.5 million on their lost revenue for housing capacity.

Wilberforce forgave $375,000 in debt and fines owed to the school by graduates from spring 2020 and spring 2021 classes using ARPA funds.

Marsha Bonhart, spokeswoman for Wilberforce, said the university also spent the money on individual student financial support, student technology like laptops, improving the university’s distance learning technology and financial support of the newly refurbished and redesigned student health clinic.

Wilberforce’s enrollment has been hit hard during the pandemic. The university said previously it lost about 12% of enrollment between fall 2019 and fall 2020. Last summer, Wilberforce announced a 15% tuition cut for in-state students as an incentive for people to enroll.

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