Through aid funding from the federal government, the Pentecostal Christian Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma has canceled over $500,000 in debt, impacting hundreds of graduate, undergraduate and online students who owed money to the Tusla-based institution.
Out of the total 4,303 students who attended the university throughout the fall 2020 and summer 2021 academic year, 646 students owed money to the school, according to ORU Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management-Residential Alison Vujnovic.
Last week, all 646 students with outstanding debt received a notice from the university that their student accounts now carry zero balance.
“The rising cost of higher education is not a mystery and the kind of federal and state aid available has not risen to the cost,” Vujnovic told The Christian Post in an interview. “Higher education is really out of reach for many and we wanted to help those students reach over these obstacles.”
The debt elimination was made possible by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The fund provides emergency financial aid for schools. Of the 646 students who received the aid, many were in jeopardy of not completing their degree due to owed funds.
HEERF was passed by Congress in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act and included about $12.6 billion in COVID-19 relief aid for schools distributed by the Department of Education. Schools that received funds are required to use about half toward emergency student aid.
With the upcoming fall semester approaching, students who received the aid will start the semester debt-free in their student accounts.
“This cancellation of money that they owed will help these students focus on what’s important to them and not worry about their balance,” she said. “Most of them have gone through tough things in this difficult year and now they can focus on their education, family, jobs and just focus on living their lives.”
“It’s a great display of our heart towards our students," she added. "Staff and administration care deeply for students, and I pray this is one of the right things for the students, all for God’s glory."
For the students who might still struggle financially even with their prior account balances erased, Vujnovic advises them not to give up on pursuing higher education. According to ORU's website, tuition for the fall and spring semesters of 2021-2022 is listed at $30,300. Including the cost of room and board and other fees, the total estimated direct cost to the student is $40,408.
“To any student who is still struggling financially, don’t give up. Pursue every avenue you can,” Vujnovic said. “We will pursue every path with you, and we desire to see all students succeed.”
ORU President William M. Wilson said the institution was founded by charismatic televangelist Oral Roberts is "mindful of the cost of a college education." In a statement, Wilson said that ORU also received several millions of dollars from the government in other COVID relief funds in the last year.
“As a person who has paid for multiple university degrees myself, I realize that student debt is a severe problem for many young people," Wison said. "We are doing everything we can to assist our students financially and we are thrilled to erase this over half a million dollars from student accounts owed to the university.”
ORU is recognized by US News and World Report as being tied for the No. 5 best value regional college in the west.
“[W]e are committed to the value of our educational model," Wilson said. "We are grateful that we have this occasion to assist so many students in their journey to becoming Whole Leaders for the Whole World.”