Debt union erases nearly $10 million in student debt at Morehouse College

At first, Jordan Young thought the voicemail he received was too good to be true.

“I actually was busy working when I got the call. And when I listened to the voicemail, I thought it was surreal,” Young told CNN.

But when the reality of what he was hearing set in, Young said he realized his life had been changed.

“I didn’t owe $21,000 anymore. I had a zero on my student balance account,” he said. “That truly was just a blessing.”

This week, Morehouse College announced it has partnered with the Debt Collective, a non-profit debt relief advocacy group, to purchase and forgive “every single penny of account balances” on institutional loans through the Fall 2022 term, according to a statement from the college.

The “no strings attached” gift to the historically Black, all-men’s college, amounted to nearly $10 million of student loan forgiveness on more than 2,700 accounts that owed debt to the College, the release said.

Although the debt forgiveness does not apply to federal or private student loans, Young said he was incredibly relieved and grateful to be a recipient.

“God really has just been so good to me,” he said.

A radical approach to debt forgiveness

The Debt Collective describes itself as a “union of debtors” who are dedicated to abolishing America’s soaring debt crisis. In 2012, the collective launched The Rolling Jubilee Fund, a public education initiative and “mechanism for purchasing portfolios of people’s debt on secondary debt markets – and cancelling it.”

The debt is often purchased for a fraction of what is owed, but instead of hiring collectors, the Fund erases the remaining balance. In July, the Fund spent $125,000 to purchase more than $9 million of outstanding student debt at Morehouse.

“With Morehouse College’s blessing, the Debt Collective then immediately extinguished all of it,” the college said in a statement.

Braxton Brewington, a spokesperson for the nonprofit, said the Jubilee Fund focuses much of its efforts on relieving debt from public education because the relief can be life changing. In 2022, the Debt Collective cancelled nearly $2 million dollars of debt for 462 students at Bennett College, a historically Black college for women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“This nearly $10M of student debt cancellation (at Morehouse) will put thousands of Black folks in a better position to be able to save for retirement, purchase a home, or start a small business,” Brewington said.

The debt forgiveness also allows students to finish their education or access transcripts that are withheld due to unpaid balances, he added.

The move comes as the Biden administration continues to seek alternative ways to provide relief to student loan borrowers after the Supreme Court ruled the administration’s debt cancellation plan was unconstitutional.

Brewington said despite the setbacks on the federal level, the administration should continue to work to expedite efforts to cancel student debt through existing programs, regulations and laws.

Since the high court’s ruling, the Biden administration has announced several alternative means to assist borrowers in managing and canceling student debt, CNN previously reported.

Education as a public good

Brewington credits Andrew Douglas, a Morehouse College political science professor, as the driving force behind the school’s partnership with the debtors union.

Douglas teaches a class at Morehouse called “Debt and Democracy,” which studies the debt abolition movement in the US that began during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Nowadays just about everyone needs to take on debt in order simply to function,” he said, adding that student debt can be debilitating.

“As a society, we need to commit to the principle that education is a public good and we need to fund it publicly. We have the real resources to do this.”

It was that belief in the power of public education, Douglas said, that prompted him to reach out to the Debt Collective on behalf of Morehouse College.

“In April 2022, we began discussing the idea of cancelling some debt at Morehouse,” Douglas told CNN. “They thought it would be a good idea to bring this effort to Morehouse and assist Black men affected by student debt.”

But Douglas said debt cancellation is only a first step in addressing the ongoing student loan crisis. He called on Congress and state-level political leaders to “fundamentally transform how we as a society finance higher education.”

Jordan Young had his outstanding debt forgiven at Morehouse College. - Courtesy Jordan Young
Jordan Young had his outstanding debt forgiven at Morehouse College. - Courtesy Jordan Young

“I’d like to see us build on this $10M in relief at Morehouse by growing the movement for debt abolition, especially among HBCU students and alumni,” he said. “That means putting more pressure on the Biden administration to act decisively to eliminate existing student debt and working to build durable political support for a more sustainable model of higher education finance.”

Young agrees the Biden administration and other policymakers could do more to combat America’s student debt crisis.

“After accumulating a balance and some debt at the College, I had to take time off from school, just to put myself in a better mental, emotional, spiritual space,” he said. “This is very frustrating.”

Like Young, many students struggle to finance an education that in some cases is necessary for entry-level employment. Young no longer attends Morehouse, but is continuing his studies at Sinclair College, a community college in his Ohio hometown.  
But, he said, the Debt Collective’s loan forgiveness has restored his hope for the future.

“Knowing that good and better can come, even if I don’t yet see for myself, has been so instrumental,” he said.

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