Billionaire Robert F. Smith's recent tax settlement hasn't stopped him from continuing his philanthropic work. The Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization established for the cause of "freedom in professional and life choices for junior and senior students earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees," recently announced a personal gift of $50 million from Smith towards STEM students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (known as HBCUs).
Smith happens to be the the Board Chair of the Student Freedom Initiative as well, so his relationship with the charity goes beyond the financial. And in the press release announcing his donation, he explained why he decided to cut such a large check to this particular charity:
"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…A college education should empower and prepare our next generation for a limitless future. The Student Freedom Initiative is a culmination of work that followed my gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019. The $1.6 trillion student debt crisis in our country is a human rights crisis. The Initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders. I urge others to join this important cause so that together we can liberate the human spirit."
The gift is being made through Smith's Fund II Foundation, and will launch across 11 HBCUs that will be named sometime before the end of November, the press release says. After that, all STEM juniors and seniors at those institutions who qualify will be able to access the program starting in the fall 2021 school year. As per the charity itself:
"The Initiative provides an income-contingent payment obligation alternative to high cost, fixed payment Parent PLUS and private debt obligations. It offers flexible payment obligations contingent on income (if any) that the participant earns each year."
The initiative is somewhat similar in focus to Smith's famous pledge to pay off all the student loans for the entire graduating class of Morehouse College's class of 2019, and will hopefully serve to eliminate crushing student debt for exponentially more graduating students over the next several years.