Financing a college education is challenging — but for some students, particularly Black students and students of color, the challenges can be even greater. Black families are frequently disadvantaged because of generations of wealth disparities fueled by systemic racism, so they are more likely to be forced to take on student debt to finance higher education. Robert F. Smith recognizes this, and believes that alleviating the heavy burden of college debt that Black students and families take on is an important step to achieving racial equity.
Smith founded the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) to help do just that — remove some of the steep and often prohibitive barriers to higher ed that students of color often face. He noted, “The Student Freedom Initiative is inspired by our common goal of liberating the human spirit by removing the systemic barriers that prevent students from maximizing their opportunities in life.”
SFI will launch its first year of programming beginning in Fall of 2021. The initial Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that will participate in its program were recently announced. The schools include Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University and Xavier University of Louisiana. Participation in the SFI program will allow eligible students at the institutions to receive college financing alternatives to the high-cost, high-interest traditional debt options. The SFI will also pair students with support services like internships and mentoring to aid students’ efforts to land high-paying jobs after graduation.
Smith believes that by offering students financing options, you open up the door to a college education for more students — students who may have been forced to borrow high-interest loans without the SFI program. “By addressing the financial stress of college and providing students with resources and community, we can finally broaden the talent pipeline and create a more diverse and thriving economy,” said Smith.
To learn more about the work of the Student Freedom Initiative, visit its website.