UNCP uses $5M in pandemic funding to provide housing stipends, clear student debt

·2 min read

Sep. 4—PEMBROKE — April Oxendine stared in disbelief at her computer screen during a routine online check of her student account at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

It showed a zero balance. Oxendine immediately contacted the cashier's office and was shocked to learn she was among nearly 1,300 students whose debt was paid utilizing pandemic funding, allowing students to continue their studies this fall and hundreds more to begin the semester free of debt.

"I cried," she said. "I'm not working right now, and at the time, my son was experiencing health problems, so this was an unexpected blessing."

Sophomore Xavier McLaurin experienced a similar feeling of relief when he learned his nearly $1,000 debt had been erased.

"I knew I had a balance from last semester. My family couldn't afford to pay it, and even though I work, I couldn't pay it. So, it felt good to be given a clean slate and to know I had a real chance to come back this semester. I'm grateful," McLaurin said.

A former student-athlete at Scotland High School, McLaurin plans to study physical education, with hopes of one day becoming a football coach.

Oxendine is on track to get her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies in December and plans to seek a position with the county school system.

UNCP paid the debts with $5 million from its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III), part of the American Rescue Plan that provided $39 billion to higher education institutions nationwide to serve students and ensure learning continues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the total funding, the university issued $3 million in housing stipends and $1 million each for meal and book stipends. Some of the funds were used to pay off library and parking fines.

The university also allocated $59,000 this past summer to assist students who struggled during the 2020-2021 academic year because of the effects of COVID-19. The Brave Boost scholarship program was developed to help students improve their GPAs and get back on track with their educational goals.

"Many of our students are low-income and/or come from economically distressed counties in rural North Carolina, so providing financial assistance to our students during the pandemic was the right thing to do," said Derek Oxendine, interim dean of the University College and associate vice chancellor for Student Success.

"When students have a balance from a previous semester or lose financial aid eligibility, the harsh reality is UNCP potentially loses that student forever. Brave Boost scholarships and eliminating past-due debt prevented this by removing economic barriers that hinder retention, persistence and ultimately graduation for our students," Oxendine added.

Mark Locklear is a Public Communications specialist for the office of University Communications & Marketing at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting