On March 7, the Department of Education announced record-breaking $2.7 billion in funding to be allocated to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as part of the administration’s commitment through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to provide access “to shared prosperity and equity for all Americans.”
The funding is provided through the American Rescue Plan (as part of HEERF) to get students ready to compete on a global scale, provide financial relief, accelerate opportunities and promote academic excellence for Black students across the nation. In a recent Yahoo Finance Live interview, Delaware State University President, Tony Allen, explained that the HBCU support from the Biden-Harris administration is significant because for many African-American communities “HBCUs are the single greatest driver to the middle class.”
Allen also stated that private investments in the Black community have also increased since Spring 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, but he thought it was important to remember that in order to drive real change, these investments can’t just be ‘one and done.’ HBCU schools need ongoing support from both the federal government and the private sector to help fund infrastructure needs, research, scholarships, and other opportunities to provide the highest quality of education for their students and improve economic mobility in African American communities.
HBCU President David Thomas of Morehouse College was recently interviewed by The Plug on his 10-year vision for a debt-free college. Thomas said he believes that after entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert F. Smith paid off the student loan debt of Morehouse’s graduating class of 2019, it inspired others to consider support for HBCUs more broadly. For instance, after Smith’s contribution, Oprah donated $13 million to Morehouse in October that same year and in 2020, Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quillin donated a combined $120 million to three HBCU schools. Now, Thomas says that Morehouse is developing a plan to help all of its students graduate debt-free by 2030.
Robert F. Smith Investing in HBCU Students
His gift to the Morehouse graduates is just one of many initiatives Smith supports to benefit underserved students. For example, Smith is also the Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, a non-profit organization that focuses on career pipeline support from academics to internships while also offering a means to minimize student loan debt for students who attend participating HBCU schools or Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Most recently, in January 2022, Smith established a $10 million scholarship fund at Columbia Business School for students who received their undergraduate degree from an HBCU; come from diverse backgrounds; have overcome significant hardships; have experienced challenges in their academic pursuits; and, have demonstrated a commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Read more about how Student Freedom Initiative is investing in security and institutional trust for HBCUs.