For many students across the United States, going to college is an exciting prospect. It is a rite of passage, helping students transition from wide-eyed youth to worldly adults. And, oftentimes, it is a vessel that allows students to build a better life for themselves. However, not all students who want to attend college have the finances or support they need, especially as college tuition and fees continually rise.
Foster children are some of the most greatly affected by college tuition prices and support, or lack thereof. Statistics from the last ten years show that close to 85% of graduating high school students in the foster care system want to go to college. However, only 20% actually attend college, with less than 10% graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
Fortunately, the Figgers Foundation is trying to change the tide for Florida youth with the “Everyday People Campaign.” Through this campaign, the foundation is providing small grants to qualified individuals or families, like those in foster care, who need relief from personal hardships. These grants also extend to current college students who were once in the foster care system.
In February 2021, 15 Florida A&M University (FAMU) students received Everyday People Grants from the Figgers Foundation. These students are a part of the Dorothy Henderson Scholars Program, a campus-based support program for homeless and former foster care students. Each of these students received a $500 grant to help them with personal expenses, allowing them thrive in school, while another $500 grant was presented to the FAMU Foundation.
“Through our Everyday People Initiative, The Figgers Foundation is able to provide temporary financial relief to Floridians,” said Carolyn Newman, executive director of The Figgers Foundation. “These students, some of whom are homeless or have just left the foster system, are supported by FAMU to get a great education to do great things with their lives. We immediately realized that they, like many Floridians today, need a little extra financial help, so we made these grants to assist the students in their everyday lives. We pass it forward because it’s the right thing to do.”
Eddie Figgers and the Figgers Foundation
Helping students from the foster care system is a cause that is near and dear to, not only the Figgers Foundation, but also its founder: Freddie Figgers, CEO and Chief Software Architect of Figgers Communications, Inc. Figgers, who was born and raised in Quincy, Florida, was abandoned by his biological mother at birth. He was found at two days old by a couple, fostered by them and then eventually adopted by the same couple. Because of his unique circumstance, Figgers learned early on the importance of giving back, especially to those in the foster care system. Through his foundation, Figgers continues to focus on programs that support the quality of education in schools and help provide education to those who need it most.
Robert F. Smith Initiates Student Freedom Initiative at Florida A&M University and Eight Other HBCUs
Freddie Figgers is not the only prominent businessman helping students at Florida A&M University. Entrepreneur, engineer and philanthropist Robert F. Smith is also joining the action. However, Smith’s plan isn’t just helping Florida students. He is aiding students at a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as Minority Serving Institutions, just like FAMU. His plan is known as Student Freedom Initiative, an idea conceived after Smith famously paid off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.
Student Freedom Initiative offers eligible HBCU students the option of having a portion of their education expenses funded under an income-contingent option known as the “Student Freedom Agreement,” which acts as an alternative to high-cost loan options. Additionally, it offers students capacity-building support, as well as tools and support that are designed to help them achieve their educational and career goals, such as internships, tutoring and mentoring. The ultimate goal of the program is to eliminate the $1.5 to $2 trillion racial wealth gap by helping to alleviate the burden of student debt for African American students. In fact, 65% of African American wealth is consumed by college loan debt.
“[Student Freedom Initiative] is an innovative and comprehensive approach to helping students address some of the most significant challenges faced during matriculation and post-commencement,” said FAMU President, Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “With the added economic challenges students and parents face caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this alternative financing option’s timing couldn’t be better. All of our students will benefit from FAMU’s participation in this unique program geared toward assisting students with persistence to graduation and securing employment and graduate and professional school opportunities afterward.”
Check out the website to learn more about eligibility for Student Freedom Initiative and participating schools as more are added.