Months after a billionaire investor vowed to eliminate the student loan debt of Morehouse College‘s 2019 graduating class, the historically Black and all-male institution is taking steps of its own to give its graduates a leg up.
This month, the school announced the creation of a new program aimed at offsetting the burden of student debt and giving students greater financial freedom. With the costs of college rising annually, students find themselves taking out thousands of dollars in loans — and statistics show that African-American students are often forced to borrow more.
According to the United Negro College Fund, 80 percent of students at historically black colleges and universities rely on federal loans to cover their education, compared to 55 percent of their peers who attend other private and state institutions. Additionally, HBCU alums borrow twice as much as non-HBCU grads.
At Morehouse specifically, the average student owes between $35,000 and $40,000 in student loan debt, according to the organization. The estimated cost of attendance for the 2018-2019 academic year ranged from $32,000 to upwards of $48,500.
Faced with this stressful reality, the school launched the Morehouse College Student Success program with hopes of relieving the burden of the student debt crisis. The program will not only give graduates a launchpad to success but allow them the opportunity to build wealth, start businesses and pursue advanced degrees, according to Morehouse President David A. Thomas.
“The Morehouse College Student Success Program will provide students with a liberating gift that will wipe away or greatly reduce their student loans, allowing them to pursue their dreams and lead lives of leadership and service immediately after graduation,” Thomas said in a statement.
The funding effort, a brainchild of the college’s Board of Trustees, aims to do this by soliciting and accepting donations given with the specific intent of reducing, and in some cases, eliminating the student debt of Morehouse graduates.
“We, at Morehouse, see the Student Success Program as an important step toward improving outcomes for our graduates and addressing the income disparities that people of color experience when they are overburdened by debt,” Thomas added.
In a statement, Morehouse said it “will solicit and accept donations made specifically to reduce or eliminate the student loan debt of Morehouse Men, thus creating an opportunity for greater financial freedom for new alumni and their families.”
But that’s not all. Officials said the program will also double as a fundraising and research initiative that will analyze the impact of college costs on Morehouse men compared to the financial freedom alumni might experience if their debts were paid in full or significantly reduced.
The UNCF lauded Morehouse new funding initiative and hopes it could serve as a model for other HBCUs.
“Morehouse’s program to provide debt relief to new graduates is a fund-raising opportunity that should be studied and duplicated nationally,” said UNCF president Michael has Lomax.
He added: “The impact of such a gift, particularly for minority or economically disadvantaged families, could accelerate the growth of a more diverse and robust middle class.”
In May, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith shocked graduates at their 2019 commencement by announcing that he would pay off their student debt. The historic donation was estimated at $40 million.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith told the crowd before making the surprise announcement.
“This is my class, 2019,” he added. “And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”