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Why Some Howard Students Are Turning to GoFundMe to Help Pay Tuition Balances

GoFundMes listed for Howard University tuition purposes. Photo courtesy of GoFundMe. 

Kayla Grant cried tears of joy as a bold “congratulations” email confirmed her acceptance to her number one school, Howard University. For Grant, Howard was the university she truly saw herself at, and she couldn’t wait to be a Bison. 

Despite her initial excitement, more than three years later, the junior business management major’s dream of continuing at Howard was at risk, as she was unable to register for the spring semester due to an unpaid fall semester balance.

With limited debt-free options to pay for the $2,000 she owed the university, Grant turned to the fundraising platform GoFundMe in December 2022, an increasingly common alternative that dozens of students are now choosing to pay for their education. 

“Before I even started mine, I saw so many students make GoFundMes. I thought to myself ‘I’m going to have to make one too or I don’t know what I’m going to do,’” Grant said.

Grant shared that her mother had suffered a stroke the year before, causing her to leave her job which impacted her family’s finances. Grant explained that her parent-plus loan was denied and she used the maximum loan funds allocated from the university. 

Students with financial holds on their accounts from the previous semester are prohibited from registering for classes, returning to their dormitories and denied clearance for sports and organizations unless the balance is paid. The last day for students to pay their balances from the previous semester in order to register for spring classes is Jan. 20, according to an email sent to students from enrollment management. 

Searching the phrases “tuition” and “Howard University” together, more than 200 active fundraisers appear on GoFundMe of students asking for help paying for remaining balances, school supplies and fees. 

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The Hilltop reached out to the university for comment on the influx of student fundraising efforts, however, no response was received in time for publication. 

On the platform, users create their fundraiser, set their fundraising goal, and can add a picture or description of the various circumstances that may have led them to seek additional funds. Users are able to manage their fundraiser, accept donations and withdraw funds at any time. 

According to GoFundMe, there is no fee to start or manage a fundraiser. However, payment processors deduct one small transaction fee per donation. “This is deducted automatically from donations; the person receiving funds will receive all funds raised minus these transaction fees,” GoFundMe explains on their website.

While GoFundMe does not guarantee that all goals will be met, it has garnered success for many students seeking financial assistance. 

Destiny Thompson, a sophomore civil engineering major, had just returned from her 15-minute lunch break at her job at Walmart to a $22,000 donation to her GoFundMe. The donation surpassed her initial $6,000 goal. 

“I’m cleaning registers, I’m getting a lot of calls and texts saying ‘Congratulations, Kyrie Irving just blessed you.’ I didn’t even look at the amount because I didn’t care, I just knew that I had met my goal. I instantly started crying,” Thompson said.

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Thompson had created the GoFundMe to help pay for her remaining fall balance, as well as personal debts she had accrued over the semester. Thompson explained that she was aware of her tuition balance at the beginning of the semester, but was unable to pay it at the time, as it would require her to pick up more hours at her job. Thompson shared that she had already been working around 15-20 hours a week as a full-time student, and did not want to jeopardize her academic performance by working more. 

Unable to register for spring semester classes due to the financial hold on her account, Thompson turned to GoFundMe after seeing a fellow student’s fundraiser receive a $50,000 donation from NBA Brooklyn Nets player Irving, who would later donate to her as well. 

The civil engineering major described the donation as a weight lifted off her shoulders because she was then able to pay her tuition balance for the fall and spring semesters. Thompson shared that she had surplus funds from her GoFundMe to allow her to focus on her studies without the need to work more hours at her job during the semester. 

The Hilltop reached out to Irving’s public relations team for comment on the donation, however, no response was given in time for publication. 

While grateful to no longer be in debt to the university, Thompson shared that it was disheartening to see so many students having to raise money to continue their education when their families struggled financially. 

For the 2021 fiscal year, 44 percent of the students enrolled at Howard University, including graduate and professional students, had family incomes that were less than $40,000 a year, according to the Department of Education. For the 2022-2023 school year, Howard University’s estimated total cost of attendance is roughly $52,000, which includes tuition, room and board, and other mandatory expenses.  

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“Seeing a lot of GoFundMes, it made me realize that we’re all in the same boat,” she said. “We’re all struggling to make tuition and ends meet…after knowing that, it made me realize that more money needs to be given to students, especially because we get a lot of money, a lot of funding, and a lot of donations. I feel like we barely see them. It’s not a good thing.”

According to The Dig, Howard University cited inflation as one of the main reasons for the seven percent increase in tuition this school year. U.S. inflation had increased from 7.5 percent in January 2022 to 9.1 percent in June, the highest rate in nearly 40 years. The announcement to increase tuition for the 2022-2023 school year was made in May 2022, according to the university.

Though tuition increased to $30,584 a year, the university claimed that tuition and mandatory fees remain “significantly lower” than comparable institutions. Furthermore, the university stated in that same article that its tuition and fees were “64 percent lower than private institutions in the Washington, D.C. area.” 

While tuition was increased for the academic school year, scholarship funds from the university remained the same. 

“As is standard in higher education, the University funded scholarships do not

automatically increase each subsequent year when tuition increases,” Stephen Graham, the chief financial officer of Howard University, explained in an interview with the Hilltop. 

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“Howard University is aware of the continuing stress of the increase in higher education. As such, the university provides continuing Undergraduate students the opportunity to apply to endowed donor and external scholarships after their Freshman year,” he said. 

Students seeking financial assistance and scholarships are encouraged to visit Student Financial Services, where students can access a composite list of scholarships, grants and loans, as well as resources on types of aid and additional funding opportunities.

Graham further added that “the cost of education has significantly outdistanced gift-based aid, grants, and scholarships for nearly 30 years.” 

Senior honors journalism major Evin Guilford feels that raising tuition should equate to reassessments of financial aid packages as students matriculate through the university.  Guilford claimed that as she progressed, her funding began to dwindle and scholarships she relied on as a freshman and sophomore were no longer provided.

“Being able to depend on different scholarships that were offered became something that wasn’t really an option anymore because it either wasn’t provided or it got taken away,” Guilford said. “Not taken away in the sense of not meeting a GPA requirement, I’ve always had a high GPA, it was more ‘this semester we’re not offering this funding anymore.’” 

Guilford created a fundraiser on GoFundMe shortly after realizing she wouldn’t be able to pay for the spring semester, her last semester at the university. She explained that her father had been laid off from his job in construction, leaving her family in a financially vulnerable position. 

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When the honors student didn’t receive the donor scholarship and had been denied a larger loan from the university, she realized she was left with few options before turning to the Howard community via the fundraising platform.

“It disheartens me that we’re a large population of Black scholars, it doesn’t matter what the GPA says in the system, we want to better ourselves. So many Black students are being pushed to the brink of not being able to better themselves,” she said.

According to the Department of Education, a 2016-2017 report found that Black college graduates owe $25,000 more in student debt compared to white graduates, a difference that may continue to grow as interest rates on federal loans increase. For federal loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2022, fixed interest rates will increase from 3.75 percent to 4.99 percent for undergraduate borrowers seeking direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

For students like Guilford who may be contemplating taking out new loans, the increase in the fixed interest rate could have a notable impact on repayment. According to an article by Forbes, “for a $20,000 federal student loan balance, the interest rate change would result in an additional $252 in interest accruing annually,” which means more than $1,400 in additional interest over a 10-year Standard repayment plan.

The growing trend to crowdfund for tuition purposes is not exclusive to Howard students, as there are more than 500 active educational fundraisers on GoFundMe on the website. Students from schools such as the University of Mississippi, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T, the University of Arizona and hundreds of other institutions are also seeking assistance paying for the rising costs of college nationwide. 

According to research findings by College Board, ​​in the 2022-2023 school year, the average tuition cost for students at public four-year institutions range from $190 to $620 higher than the previous year, depending on a student’s residency. For private nonprofit institutions, the average tuition cost was $1,330 higher than the previous year. 

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“I feel like there’s fault in all aspects. The economy is awful right now,” Guilford said. “I feel like even if Howard puts out a statement, just acknowledging this issue and they don’t overlook the fact that there’s a problem, even if they can’t necessarily do something– just some type of relief that they know this is an issue.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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