In May 2019, Robert F. Smith wowed the graduating seniors at Morehouse College, a Historically Black College (HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia, by announcing in his commencement address that he would pay off all of their student loans and any loans taken out by students’ family members. Smith’s realization that student loan debt was a burden holding back too many Black students from pursuing higher education and careers that would require a college degree helped to inspire his Morehouse gift. This gift subsequently led Smith to launch the Student Freedom Initiative — a nonprofit organization that aims to help reduce student loan debt among students in STEM programs at HBCUs.
Initially funded with a $50 million donation from the Fund II Foundation, the Student Freedom Initiative is expected to be fully up and running by Fall 2021. Smith is the Founding Director and President of the Foundation, which focuses on several main pillars, including educational initiatives. Smith recently announced an additional personal donation of $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative to match the amount given by Fund II Foundation. The Student Freedom Initiative is currently available to more than 5,000 students at 11 different HBCUs across the country.
“Each year, thousands of black graduates from HBCUs across America enter the workforce with a crushing debt burden that stunts future decisions and prevents opportunities and choices. A college education should empower and prepare our next generation for a limitless future. The Student Freedom Initiative is a culmination of work that followed my gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019,” Smith said of the initiative. “The $1.6 trillion student debt crisis in our country is a human rights crisis. The Initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders. I urge others to join this important cause so that together we can liberate the human spirit.”
Another notable donation given to benefit students attending HBCUs this year was Reed Hastings’ and Patti Quillin’s $120 million donation that was split between the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College, which each received $40 million from the pledge. Their donations went entirely to funding scholarships for students attending HBCUs. Michael Bloomberg also made headlines in 2020 when he gave $100 million in grants to Black students who are currently in medical school. Bloomberg’s donation is expected to provide up to $100,000 in grants for more than 800 students. Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott also recently donated $100 million to Black higher education, which was split between Howard University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Hampton University and Tuskegee University.
Learn more about Smith’s philanthropic work.