Cisco Systems, a multinational technology company will give $150 million to the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) to aid historically Black colleges and universities.
The Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit assisting students of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and HBCUs by providing income-contingent funding for students enrolled at HBCUs and MSIs.
The money will be split in two ways: $100 million will go to networking and security upgrades including ongoing technical support and advancements to HBCU information technology infrastructure provided by American Virtual Cloud (AVC).
The remaining $50 million will allow for the financing of the education of 500 HBCU students every year. The program, known as the Student Freedom Agreement will cover a student’s remaining costs after federal aid and could serve as an alternative to private student loans.
Robert Smith, who founded the SFI, said in a statement the collaboration and Cisco’s financial commitment will free minority students from crushing student loan debt. Each student will receive up to $20,000 and there is no obligation for students to pay the funds back.
“Their expertise and generosity will ensure that HBCUs are secure and robust institutions that empower Black students,” Smith said in a statement. “And Cisco’s added financial commitment to students, making them the first anchor corporate partner of SFI, will help liberate students from crushing debt and allow them to make their own life choices.”
Student Loan Debt ($1.57 trillion) is the fourth-highest debt Americans carry after personal debt, auto debt, and credit card debt. For Black Americans and minitories, taking out student loans to go to college can follow you for the rest of your life. A 2016 Brookings Institute study shows Black college graduates typically owe $7,400 more than white graduates upon finishing a bachelor’s program.
SFI will launch the programs this fall and Cisco COO Maria Martinez said the investment will ensure the success and financial freedom for HBCU and MSI students.
“This partnership is an investment in our future workforce, empowering AA/Black STEM students and equipping them with the financial and technology tools to be resilient and successful long term,” Martinez, said in a statement. “We remain committed to this community—to be seen, heard, valued, and invested in.”