More young people are going into debt than ever before in order to finance their college education. This debt disproportionately impacts Black students — who take on 85.8% more debt than their white counterparts, according to a 2018 study by the American Sociological Association. This debt can be crippling, and it can impact students’ lives and their future possibilities. But what would the future look like for America’s graduating seniors without this heavy debt burden?
It could look like homeownership at 24, or applying for a business loan and starting a business — both things that 2019 Morehouse graduate Elie Kirkland is considering. Elie Kirkland was able to graduate debt free from Morehouse in 2019 thanks to a gift by Smith to the entire Morehouse graduating class. Last year, Smith surprised Morehouse College’s Class of 2019 by pledging to pay off the student loans of all graduates and their parents. Kirkland says that getting his $30,000 of student loan debt wiped clean made a big impact on his life: “It’s a huge burden that I just don’t have to worry about.”
Henry McKoy, Director of Entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University’s Business School, said that the students of the Morehouse class of 2019 have the freedom to take risks, which can ultimately create wealth. This wealth could go a long way in closing the racial wealth gap that exists in America. Black people in America hold less than 5% of the nation’s wealth, despite accounting for more than 13% of the population. This is because of systemic racism, which has created structural disadvantages for Black people in America.
For Elie Kirkland, he’s not entirely sure what the future holds, but he is already thinking about how he can use Smith’s gift to pay it forward. He says he would like to set up scholarships for others someday.
To learn more about Robert F. Smith’s gift to the 2019 Morehouse graduating class and hear how this has impacted students, read this piece in Bloomberg.