LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Nearly 1,700 students Arkansas Tech University woke up today no longer in debt to the school.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a lot of challenges for college students, including economic hardship. Knowing this, Arkansas Tech used $1.73 million of its institutional American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government to retire student debts owed to the university.

This was a welcomed surprise for those dealing with tough times like ATU student Dakota Barrett, whose life is all about family, church, and horses.

“We’re trying to get started in this crazy world,” Barrett said.

Something that’s been keeping him from getting his degree was a $3,700 debt he owed to Arkansas Tech.

“It’s something that you wake up thinking about every day,” Barrett said. “It’s something that just kind of tears at your heart.”

Barrett and his wife go to work every day, but this year was hard.

“Sometimes it’s just too much of a struggle to come up with three or four thousand dollars,” he said. “I was just kind of sitting there on hold. $3,700 and just never had it extra to come up with.”

Barrett said he received a phone call about the school debt he owed.

“Super nice guy there informed me that somebody has paid the debt off,” Barrett said. “I couldn’t hardly talk to him. I just about broke down bawling. I won’t even lie to you, I cried for probably about an hour.”

When Barrett learned that his debt was paid off, he called it a blessing from above.

“We’d really been praying on that, that somehow God would just come through for us,” Barrett said.

Along with the good news of no longing having school debt, Dakota and his wife are expecting a little girl any day now, which will be their first child.

“We believe in getting up and working,” Barrett said. “But we also believe that every now and then, people just deserve a break, you know?”

Dakota knows Arkansas Tech could have used that money for anything, but he said they chose to help the kids that attend the school throughout the semester.

The university said the debt forgiveness applies to current and former students still owing a balance from Spring 2020 through Spring 2021 who met federal guidelines.