Billionaire Robert F. Smith initiative aims to ease student debt for HBCU students

Billionaire creates the Student Freedom Initiative as an alternative to traditional high-interest loans

Robert Smith speaks onstage as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights hosts The 2015 Ripple Of Hope Awards honoring Congressman John Lewis. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for RFK Human Rights)

When Robert F. Smith made his surprise announcement at Morehouse College’s 2019 graduation, he shocked the world.

Now Smith, who is the wealthiest Black man in the nation, is pledging to help even more graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Read more: How Robert Smith’s pledge to pay my $150K student loan debt saved me from giving up on my dreams

The billionaire pledged to pay off all student loan debt for the graduates, including debts incurred by their families. The total commitment amounted to approximately $34 million. However, his support of students has not stopped with that one move.

He will formally do this through The Student Freedom Initiative.

The Student Freedom Initiative is a new non-profit aimed at addressing the disproportionate loan burden on Black students and creating more choices for students whose career options or further educational opportunities might be limited by heavy student debt.

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(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 20th Century Fox)

Smith announced the new initiative during a discussion with Time Magazine for their Time100 series, which was titled “The Business of Change.” The panel featured Smith, Sherrilyn Ifill, Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury.

In explaining the importance of the initiative, Smith said, “I think it’s important that we do these things at scale and en masse because that’s how you lift up entire communities.”

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, photo, Morehouse College senior Lanarion “LTL” Norwood Jr., of Atlanta, walks through a hotel lobby in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

“Of course, we all like the great one story, but I want thousands of these stories,” he said, “And I want thousands of Robert Smiths out there who are actually looking to do some things in fields that are exciting to them and are giving back.”

READ MORE: How will generous billionaire Robert Smith pay off Morehouse student loan debt for 2019 graduates?

Launching in the fall of 2021, the Student Freedom Initiative will offer juniors and seniors at 11 HBCU’s an alternative to traditional high-interest loans. The program will offer students lower interest loans and will require students to make payments based on their income for up to 20 years after graduation.

The program’s partners include Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, and Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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