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Spelman College officials have asked alumnae for donations to help students struggling to pay their fall semester tuition bills.

When the e-mail was sent last week, about 700 students — about one in three of the college’s nearly 2,150 students — couldn’t pay their balances. Donations started coming in and by Monday the number of students in need was down to about 400, said Reshunda Mahone, director of annual giving for the historically black women’s college.

This marked the second consecutive year the college reached out to alumnae to help students. Last year, about 500 students were behind on their bills. Alumnae who donated last year received plea e-mails and letters this year, Mahone said.

Some students have trouble securing their finances because of the recession and the tighter restrictions many banks and lenders have placed on loans, according to national reports.

As a result colleges are seeing a rise in students struggling to pay tuition. About 65 percent of those who responded to last year’s survey from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers said they had seen an increase in unpaid tuition bills.

In its e-mail, Spelman asked alumnae to help make a student smile. “We need 2000 alumnae to STEP UP and make a gift of $20 or more to the College by December 31, 2009,” the note read. “While swiping your Visa card at Macy’s or writing a check made payable to Tiffany’s, we are asking that you remember your Spelman sisters and make their holiday a little brighter by making a gift to the College!”

Mahone said much of the college’s focus has been on seniors. These students have already spent thousands on their education and are close to graduation. After seniors are taken care of, Mahone said attention will turn juniors and other students.