Graduates of a historically Black college in Marshall, Texas received an unexpected gift when an anonymous donor cleared their student debt. Wiley College President and CEO Herman J. Felton Jr. gave students the good news during their commencement ceremony on May 7.
The anonymous gift of approximately $300,000 retired the tuition balance for the entire 2022 graduating class.
Anonymous donations to historically Black colleges appear to be trending over the last year, with an estimated $18.8 million in private donations given to these schools in the last half of 2021 alone. There are many reasons people choose to give privately, including humility, religious beliefs and social reasons. Donor privacy is an important right that allows the charitable sector to flourish, and there’s no doubt these schools are grateful for funding to support students in need of financial assistance.
“We are constantly communicating with donors to assist students in these ways so that they can begin their after-college experience with less debt,” Felton said in a news release documenting the gift. “We are grateful for this anonymous donor who will assist the students in paying off their balances to Wiley College and help us achieve institutional goals of graduating our students with little to no debt.”
This is not the first time Wiley College has made national news.
The school was featured in the 2007 movie “The Great Debaters” starring Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington as Wiley professor and debate coach Melvin B. Tolson. Tolson pioneered interracial college debates in the early 1930s at a time when the nation was heavily segregated. He was determined to have his debate team compete on an equal level with all-white teams from other schools.
The film depicts the fulfillment of Tolson’s vision, telling the true story of the Wiley debate team’s 1935 victory over a nationally-ranked debate team from the University of Southern California. Harvard University replaced USC in the film adaptation.
Just prior to the film’s release on Christmas Day 2007, Denzel Washington announced a donation of his own to Wiley College – a $1 million gift to enable Wiley to re-establish its debate team, which had been inactive for decades. In 2018, the Washington Family Foundation renewed its commitment to support the continued growth of the Wiley College debate program.
“Supporting the next generation of brilliant minds in the art of debate at Wiley College will open so many doors of opportunity for these students during college, career and beyond,” Washington said in a statement.
For the 2022 Wiley College graduates, they are now free to pursue career opportunities without the burden of a tuition balance. You can see their reaction during the commencement ceremony here.