The Community College of Philadelphia will use $ 2.75 million in stimulus funds to pay off unpaid school balances of up to 3,500 of its students, a move that would allow them to continue their education this fall.

The CCP’s decision is part of a larger effort by colleges nationwide to help students whose education may have been disrupted or adversely affected by the pandemic. Community colleges, which often serve higher percentages of students from low-income families and students of color, have seen large numbers of dropouts.

“Our students, most of whom receive some financial assistance, have been hit hard,” CPC chairman Donald “Guy” Generals told The Inquirer Monday. “They have been affected in terms of education, life, family and employment.

CCP enrollments are currently down about 24%, the generals said, although that may change as the college’s efforts to bring more students back continue. The college expects to have approximately 13,000 students this fall.

READ MORE: More than $ 2 billion in stimulus aid for colleges will mean more emergency aid for students

To be eligible for debt relief, students must have been enrolled in college between March 13, 2020, when the pandemic took hold, and the end of the most recent semester, the generals said. The funds will be applied to both bookstore fees and unpaid tuition fees, the college said.

Colleges nationwide have received $ 76 billion in federal stimulus assistance since the onset of the coronavirus and have been required to give about half of it directly to students in need. Schools have developed various approaches to distribute aid. Like CCP, others, including Delaware State University, Bloomsburg University, and Montgomery County Community College, have chosen to target certain funds on overdue student bills.

READ MORE: Despite Federal Funding For Students During The Pandemic, Many Still In Need

“What the Community College of Philadelphia is doing is exactly what Congress had in mind,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the Washington DC-based American Council on Education. “It allows thousands of people to continue their college education when they could not have done otherwise. “

Hartle did not have an estimate of how many other schools would use the money for debt relief. Colleges serve populations with different needs, he said. Some are replacing salaries lost to students during the pandemic, he said. Some help students avoid borrowing. Others donate money to students from low-income families who might have greater financial pressure, he said.

Temple University has already distributed $ 29 million to students and has an additional $ 39 million to distribute, and is reaching out to students and asking if the university can use some of the money to clear their outstanding balances, said Ken Kaiser, Vice President and Head of Temple. financial director.

“If the students allow us to use it to pay off their debt, that’s good for them because they can come back to class and that’s good for us,” Kaiser said.

Bloomsburg, one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania state system, is using some of the funds to clear past student balances that prevent students from re-enrolling, said Tom McGuire, a spokesperson.

Montgomery County Community College has allocated about $ 717,000 of its institutional stimulus funds to debt relief for 1,071 students, according to Charles Somers, the college’s vice president of finance.

At the PCB, generals said the student body was particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Many are students of color, and about 70% of students are eligible for federal Pell Grants intended for low-income families.

The generals said CCP staff have contacted eligible students and although they don’t have exact numbers, some have already accepted the help and are registering for the fall. The first day of class is September 7th.

LaShonda Thomas, 33, of northeast Philadelphia, said she was shocked when she received the email from the college saying her balance of over $ 600 had been forgiven.

“I signed up as fast as I could,” she said.

She left college when the pandemic started, she said, and she couldn’t pay the balance at that time. She said she plans to pay him so she can re-enroll this fall and finish her studies in medical billing and coding. Now she can start with a clean slate.

The generals noted that the CCP, which has received around $ 100 million in stimulus funds, is not using the money that is to be intended for students for the debt relief effort, but rather the allocated funds. to address other issues related to the pandemic, including paying employees whose jobs have been lost. The debt relief effort, he said, is also helping the college by recovering some of the students it has lost.

“We try as much as possible to clear the path to higher education for these students,” Generals said. “We cannot allow a whole generation of students to lose momentum towards graduation. “