Robert F. Smith gave a commencement address at Atlanta-based Morehouse College, announcing that he would wipe college debt obligations for approximately 400 students of the class of 2019. Morehouse College also reported that the gift became a catalyst to support more students through the Student Freedom Initiative.
“His personal gift of $50 million to help launch The Student Freedom Initiative was one of many that interconnect at the root of Smith’s philanthropic mission to uplift Black communities and provide the education and economic infrastructure to secure a solid future for generations of graduates to come,” Morehouse College said online.
The funding program competes with the current high cost, fixed payment, debt agreements, according to Morehouse College. Smith, who is an engineer, entrepreneur, and investor who founded Vista Equity Partners, added the creation of the Student Freedom Initiative to his list of diverse opportunity-building measures for students.
According to its website, ‘the Student Freedom Initiative is ‘a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an initial focus on juniors and seniors earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees at select Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).’
The website mentioned that the program was expected to launch in the 2021-2022 academic year, while initially focusing on junior and senior STEM majors. Clark Atlanta University, Claflin University, Florida Agricultural Mechanical University, Morehouse College, Hampton University, Tougaloo College, Prairie View A&M University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Tuskegee University were listed among participating HBCUs.
Hampton University described the Student Freedom Initiative funding as “alternative to eligible rising junior and senior students in STEM majors in the form of an income-contingent repayment plan, as well as tutoring and mentoring, paid internship programs open to students of any major before graduation and targeted capacity-building to help schools better support students.”
Smith stays connected with Morehouse College’s class of 2019 by meeting with members on a monthly basis to discuss the best ways to give back, in addition to sharing some of their successes. Elijah Dormeus is paying it forward by building his own nonprofit to help other students from low-income backgrounds.
Jarvis Mays, who was Morehouse College’s 2019 co-valedictorian, is free of undergraduate student debt. He is reportedly attending medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Additionally, he is seeing some of his friends and classmates doing things they never would have been able to do if they were still overburdened by student debt. They are buying homes, investing and starting to accumulate some wealth, which they can now pass down to future generations,” Smith’s website information also noted.
Smith’s generosity continues to impact and inspire the next generation of leaders.