In September 2019, Robert F. Smith paid off the college loan debt of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College, a Historically Black College & University (HBCU), as well as the student loan debt taken on by the class’ parents. This moment changed hundreds of lives forever, and made a tremendous impact on this class’ opportunities after graduation. But Smith is still looking for ways to make a systemic impact, and he started the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) to do just that.
SFI will kick off in the fall of 2021, where it will serve 900 juniors and seniors who are in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors. The executive director of SFI, Keith B. Shoates, says that the plan is to scale up to support 5,000 students each year across all participating colleges. This program will allow rising juniors and seniors to borrow up to $20,000 a year from SFI — and pay them back in a way that is manageable and scalable with their income after graduation. All repayments will go back into the SFI fund, with the hopes that this fund will continue to be self-sustaining for future generations.
Each year, American families are taking out more and more college debt, HBCU families take on a disproportionate amount of that debt. Smith said, “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.” He believes that this initiative will free up futures, and ultimately invest in the education of future Black leaders.
To learn more about the Student Freedom Initiative, visit its website.