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Howard U. Asks Alumni To Help Clear Student Debts Before Graduation

A couple weeks before Howard University’s 147th commencement, its president e-mailed tens of thousands of alumni with an urgent and unusual appeal on behalf of 180 seniors in the class of 2015: Help the students pay off their debt so they can get their diplomas.

The prospective graduates, more than 10 percent of the undergraduate class, were on target to finish all academic requirements, President Wayne A.I. Frederick wrote. But they faced a final barrier to obtaining degrees from the prominent university in the nation’s capital — they owe the school money.

Frederick’s pitch reflects a bottom-line challenge in higher education. Colleges juggle and stretch to keep as many students enrolled as possible, even those in financial trouble, but in the end they must also collect on their bills.