Three college students at historically black universities in North Carolina won’t have to worry about tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt when they graduate, thanks to entertainer Nick Cannon.
Cannon hosted students from Saint Augustine’s University, North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University and other HBCUs on his nationally syndicated talk show Monday. They spoke about the adversity they faced and their desire to attend college, particularly an HBCU.
In a surprise announcement, Cannon then told the students their outstanding college debt would be paid upon their graduation through a scholarship in partnership with the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
“Once you earn your college degree, we’re wiping out your personal student debt — every single penny,” Cannon said.
Cannon, an alumnus of HBCU Howard University, said HBCUs have “played a pivotal role in developing the brightest minds and influencers of our time,” and recognized the high price tag.
Mackenzie Estrep, a senior at Saint Augustine’s University, is a first-generation high school graduate and college student who is working three jobs to help pay for tuition.
“Going away to college was so important to me coming from that low-income single-parent household,” Estrep said on the show. “I spent so much of my time living in that toxic household and it drained me of not knowing my purpose or my passions or even my potential.”
She said she knew going to college would help her, and SAU gave her that chance. It costs about $26,000 per year to attend St. Aug’s, and Estrep will have more than $34,000 in student loan debt when she graduates.
SAU, Shaw University and other HBCUs offered financial relief to graduates and returning students this year by clearing balances owed in tuition, fees and fines. Black college graduates owe an average of $52,000 in student loan debt, which is about $25,000 more on average than white graduates, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Sharandica Midcalf, a student at Winston-Salem State University, was homeless and said a school counselor told her she didn’t have the GPA to get into college. Someone telling her she won’t go to college motivated her to succeed at WSSU as a first generation college student.
“It feels like the world is finally going to see the person I’ve been my whole life,” Midcalf said on the show. “To prove that I’m not dumb, I’m not stupid, I’m educated.”
Midcalf wanted the opportunity to tell her story because there is a little girl out watching and trying to figure out how she can get to college.
“Listen, you just gotta do it,” Midcalf said.
Christian Kornegay talked about how he overcame a learning disability and got accepted to N.C. A&T University, where he’s pursuing his goal of becoming a professional host and entertainer.
he seven HBCU students featured on the show each have between $34,000 and $120,000 in student debt, but they all say it’s worth it to get a college education and pursue their career goals. North Carolina’s HBCUs are among the best in the country, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.
“I was pleased to watch Nick Cannon put the transformative power of HBCUs on display,” SAU President Christine Johnson McPhail said in a statement. “The use of his platform to advocate for our students is a tremendous asset in helping HBCUs fulfill their mission and vision.”
The full HBCU segment on The Nick Cannon Show can be viewed online.