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Philander Smith erasing student balances

College using virus aid funds to zero-out accounts by Jaime Adame | July 29, 2021 at 8:01 a.m.
Roderick L. Smothers, president of Philander Smith College, addresses the graduating seniors during the spring graduation on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Returning students at Philander Smith College this fall will have unpaid balances from last year wiped clean from their student accounts.

Students will also be eligible for a $500 credit if they show proof of a covid-19 vaccination.

The private Little Rock college is using federal coronavirus relief funds and other federal support to pay for the incentives, according to an announcement.

Approximately 387 students are having unpaid balances from the 2020-21 academic year, as well as the spring semester of this year, wiped clear from their accounts, college spokeswoman Olivia Goodheart said Wednesday.

The unpaid balances added up to $1,485,619, Goodheart said. The historically black college last fall enrolled 799 students, the school's lowest fall enrollment since 2016, according to state data.

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Roderick L. Smothers Sr., the college's president, in a statement said the pandemic "has disproportionately affected the families of the students we serve in myriad ways," including financially.

"So it was critically important for us to eliminate any financial obstacle to returning to our institution. Without the pressure of an outstanding debt to the college, our students can resume their studies with one less burden," Smothers said.

Current vaccination rate information for students wasn't available Wednesday, Goodheart said.

"There's some vaccine hesitancy, especially among young adults," Goodheart said, describing the college's new wellness credit as an incentive to get vaccinated.

At the college's May commencement ceremony, Smothers announced that May 2021 and also 2020 graduates would have their unpaid student account balances closed out with help from a $54,000 grant from the Jack and Jill Foundation's GAP Fund.

The college's fall semester classes begin Aug. 16.

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