Formed in 1972, Business Roundtable is a non-profit association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies such as Walmart, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, PayPal, Cisco, Apple, Vista Equity Partners and more. The association aims to promote a thriving U.S. economy and expand opportunities for all Americans. These corporate leaders work alongside communities, workers and policymakers to advocate for policies that build a better future for the nation and its people.
CEOs Address Racial Economic Opportunity Gaps
One of the many initiatives that Business Roundtable advocates for is advancing racial equity and justice. As the heads of some of the nation’s largest employers, Business Roundtable CEOs recognize the significant role they play in driving social change and believe it’s their duty to help address injustices facing people of color.
Among these inequities is the racial divide concerning student loan debt. According to the American Council on Education, 86% of Black students who graduate with a bachelor degree borrow student loans, compared to only 70% of their white peers. Additionally, white graduates carry approximately half the average amount of student loan debt of Black graduates and have over seven times more wealth after completing school. The disproportionate amount of debt that Black students take on to finance their education interferes with their ability to build wealth in their lifetime.
To set an example for the business community and be a part of the solution, many Business Roundtable companies invest in programs working to ensure everyone can finance a high-quality college education. Companies are partnering with organizations like Student Freedom Initiative , a single-purpose nonprofit organization providing students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Student Freedom Initiative is working to become a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices by increasing their social and economic mobility using a student-centric, evidence-based, collaborative and holistic approach.
Founded in March 2020, Student Freedom Initiative received its initial funding through a $50 million donation from its Chairman Robert F. Smith — CEO of Vista Equity Partners and at-large member of Business Roundtable. This gift followed a$50 million gift from the Fund II Foundation — a charitable organization of which Smith is the founding director and President. Student Freedom Initiative has also received support from major U.S. companies, including a $1 million donation from Walmart as part of a plan to donate $100 million over five years and a combined $150 million contribution from Cisco and AVC Technologies — each of which are Business Roundtable members.
Funding Future Generations at MSIs
The generous donations to Student Freedom Initiative primarily go toward the organization’s Student Freedom Agreement, a student-centric alternative to student loans that allows students to graduate college free from unmanageable student loan debt.
At the 2021 Black Business Matters Expo, Smith explained: “any student who’s going to one of the HBCUs that’s part of the program can borrow money from this program.” The repayments are recirculated back into the program to fund the next class of students. In the fall 2021 semester, Student Freedom Initiative began distributing funds for eligible students at participating schools under its Student Freedom Agreements.
Watch Robert F. Smith’s full conversation about Student Freedom Initiative at the Black Business Matters Expo.