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Majority Black Catholic university in DC wipes out $1.8M in student debt

A Catholic institution in the nation's capital, made up mostly of Black women, is making good on its commitment to racial equity with a monumental financial initiative.

Trinity Washington University in DC is wiping out nearly $2 million in student balances, according to a press release from the school on Friday.

“Many of our students lost their jobs at restaurants and other service locations, and others were also the primary financial support for their families, making it hard to pay their tuition bills,” said Pat McGuire, who has been president of the school since 1989.

“We want to wipe the slate clean so they can start the fall semester with a zero Trinity balance.”

The effort paid the remaining balances for over 40% (~400) of the school’s full-time undergraduates, “including international and undocumented students,” according to the release, and is part of the school’s DARE (Driving Actions for Racial Equality) initiative established last fall.

The balances were paid using funds from the American Rescue Plan—the stimulus plan voted into law by the Democrats and signed by President Biden in March.

The university had previously used funds from the CARES Act, the Trump-era stimulus bill from March 2020, to provide students with emergency grants, free laptops, and “other emergency support”.

Moreover, the school says it has not reduced financial aid, salaries, or staff at any point during the pandemic thus far. Trinity’s tuition remains the most affordable of any private university in the metro region.

Trinity, alongside Xavier University of Louisiana, is one of the few Catholic universities in the US with a majority Black student population. (While XULA is an HBCU, Trinity is designated as a “PBI”, or Predominantly Black Institutions.)

Also, more than 95% of Trinity students are women.

A little more than half the students whose balances were eliminated are residents of DC (which is 46% Black), and most of the remainder live in Maryland (31% Black). Trinity also says it educates more DC residents than any other private university. It has been seen as a go-to school for female graduates of the district’s public school system (which is 58% Black).

This latest news certainly bodes well for that status going forward.

“Black women carry the highest student debt burden in the country, and debt loads often inhibit their ability to complete degrees and become successful in their chosen professions,” McGuire said.

“This is absolutely the right thing to do for our students.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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