Billionaire Robert F. Smith Expands Pledge to Pay Off Loan Debt Incurred by Parents of Morehouse Grads

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Billionaire tech investor Robert F. Smith surprised students and staff at Morehouse College earlier this year when he promised to eliminate the student loan debt of the school’s graduating class of 2019.

That $34 million promise will now also include the educational debt accrued by parents of those students, the school announced in a press release Friday.

Robert F. Smith
Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith shocked the crowd when he announced during his commencement address this past May that his family was providing a grant to wipe out the student debt for the entire graduating class at Morehouse College. (Facebook video screenshot)

Smith, the founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, first disclosed the historic donation during a commencement ceremony in May, announcing that he and his family were “gonna put a little fuel in your bus” by lifting the debt burden faced by graduates of the historically Black institution.

This liberation gift from Robert Smith, the first of its kind to be announced at a graduation in higher education, will be life-changing for our new Morehouse Men and their families,” Morehouse President David A. Thomas said in a statement.

“It’s our hope that our graduates will use their newfound financial freedom to pursue their career goals, to lead and serve the community, and to remember the spirit of the gift given to them by paying it forward to support the education of future classes of Morehouse Men,” he added.

Smith’s contribution will go toward the new Morehouse Student Success Program, a funding initiative aimed at offsetting the impact of student loan debt. The program, launched last month, will raise money by soliciting donations given with the specific intent of reducing, and in some cases, eliminating the student debt of Morehouse alums.

According to school officials, the program also doubles as a fundraising and research initiative that will analyze the impact of college costs on Morehouse men compared to the financial freedom alums might experience if their debts were paid in full or significantly reduced.

Over 400 borrowers, including parents and guardians, will be covered under Smith’s inaugural gift, according to the school. The donation will repay educational loan balances held as of Aug. 28, 2019.

The gift will also repay six types of loans, including federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Parent Plus Loans and certain private student loans processed through Morehouse.

According to a report from the United Negro College Fund, graduates of historically Black colleges and universities borrow nearly twice as much as those who didn’t attend an HBCU. At Morehouse specifically, nearly 70 percent of undergrads have taken out federal loans and will have amassed between $35,000 to $40,000 in debt by the time they graduate. That figure is higher than the average debt held by students at other HBCUs.

In a statement, Smith told Bloomberg News he hoped the new Morehouse program will serve as a blueprint for other colleges “to receive gifts from alumni and other supporters that can offset the burden of student loans and give students the freedom to pursue their dreams, the capital to invest in the economic growth of their families and the time that they can give back meaningfully to strengthening their communities.”

According to the outlet, Morehouse expects to have disbursement to loan service providers complete by spring 2020.

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