400 Low-Income College Grads Just Got $8M Of Student Debt Paid Off By Anonymous Donors

student rising above student debt

More than 400 California students were notified earlier this week that a group of anonymous donors working with San Francisco based non-profit Students Rising Above (SRA) put up funds to fully wipe out the graduates’ student loan debt.

The students were informed via Zoom on a call with SRA CEO Elizabeth Devaney. The students were astounded and overwhelmed with joy.

The students on the call laughed, cried, danced, and thanked the donors.

Kimberly Armstrong, who owes nearly $300,000 in law school debt said simply, “I’m shocked… I almost don’t believe it.”

SRA alumni and software developer Alsidneio Bell said he was, “In awe! Flabbergasted! Taken aback…”

Bell said he figured his $55,000 student loan debt would be with him forever. Not anymore.

SRA has helped low-income, first-generation college students succeed for over 20 years. The organization provides students with personal guidance, mentoring, internships, and career guidance.

100% of SRA students come from low and moderate-income households, with 62% of the families living below the federal poverty line.

According to SRA’s Head of Programs Lorna Contreras-Townsend, scholarships and need-based federal grants notwithstanding, an average student involved with the program graduates with $8,000 in debt.

The anonymous benefactors’ gift will undoubtedly change the lives of these young graduates.

“We are able to provide them now some financial freedom to make decisions,” said Contreras-Townsend. “In their careers that really speak to their heart.”

Former SRA scholar Dr. Zachary Tabb, a Global Pediatric Health Resident Physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston graduated medical school two years ago, owing about $160,000.

“It’s life-changing,” Tabb said of the donation. “I’ve had debt … really my entire adult life. And so it’s just something that everywhere you go, it follows you … So… this has been nice in that way where I can sort of look broader in terms of what I do next.”

Another SRA alumnus Stevon Cook hopes the donation will inspire others to give.

“People are breaking through generational poverty barriers. A lot of these young people are already miracles,” said Cook. “So we hope that this sets a trend with other scholarship organizations.”

“It’s really a generational impact,” Dr. Tabb added. “To completely un-burden myself and all of them … has a real multiplicative effect … not only on [my fellow SRA scholars’] lives, but on the contributions they can make to society.”


Contreras-Townsend hopes the donation will bring students peace of mind, especially as some are losing jobs or unable to find work amid the coronavirus crisis.

And to the anonymous donors, whoever you are, SRA students send their deepest thanks.

“God Bless you,” said Armstrong. “Definitely, God bless you. I thank you abundantly for even thinking about students like us.”

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca