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Divine Debt Intervention: As College Costs Soar, Church Offers Hope for Students in Crisis

(Image: AP File Photo)
(Image: AP File Photo)

WASHINGTON - As college tuition skyrockets, students are taking on crippling amounts of debt and as a result churches, even food pantries, are stepping in to help.

"College is a lot. It's a lot of money," Maya Thompson tells CBN News.

She's a graduating senior at Howard University. She has a job and she's also a mom.

"So, some days I work five days a week and other days work two days a week. So in a five days week I might have - ok - so I'm off Sunday," she says sorting through her hectic schedule.

Recently she and 33 other Howard students received some divine intervention courtesy of a Washington, DC area church.

Over 40 days the congregation of Alfred Street Baptist Church fasted, prayed and gave as God guided them. 

In a video for the congregation, Pastor Howard-John Wesley tells a student, "We heard the Lord say we ought to do something good for some people who are getting ready to graduate. So we came over here to Howard, pulled out the names of seniors who had some holds on their accounts just because of balances that were left over after financial aid, and we want you to know your account has been paid in full man, you're free to graduate."

The student is stunned and visibly thankful.

Tuition at public universities costs three times what it did in the late 1980's. Graduating seniors can rack up on average $20,000 to $40,000 in debt by the time they collect their diplomas. Nationwide, Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student debt.

So how did students get into this mess? Some say the government is to blame. Colleges know students have easy access to billions in federal aid which encourages them to raise tuition higher and higher.
"We're seeing the price of college increase exponentially," says Mary Clare Amselem, who follows college tuition trends at The Heritage Foundation.

"If we had a robust private lending market we would have private lenders competing to give loans to students and colleges competing for students rather than the other way around," she tells CBN News.

The situation is dire.

"A lot of students in my school - we share books. So like somebody has a book and I say, 'Hey, can I take a picture of that page?'" she says.

Some students find themselves choosing between college expenses or putting food on the table.

Reports from Mississippi and Kentucky reveal the growth in students turning to food pantries. 

Some schools are taking steps to add creative payback options for students while ensuring their programs are really preparing students for success.

"Purdue University, for example," says Amselem, "Has started their Back-a-Boiler program which is an income share agreement model. So students go and they offer a percentage of their future earnings back to Purdue University which incentivizes the college to have some skin in the game and really ensure that their students are well equipped after college."

For now though, Amselem says red tape in Washington crowds out innovative ways to help students afford college and pay back debt.

As for Maya Thompson, she plans to return to Howard University next year to surprise a student with a gift in the same amount Alfred Street Baptist Church gave her.

"I can't wait to put a smile on another student's face next semester," she says with a smile.

A good deed put in motion by a faithful congregation.

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