The Student Freedom Initiative — a nonprofit that helps students at minority-serving institutions circumnavigate student debt and loans — has announced a partnership with nine historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that will provide eligible students with an income-contingent alternative to high-cost college loans.
Additionally, the partnership will offer paid internships as well as studying and tutoring options.
The selected HBCUs include Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University and Xavier University of Louisiana.
By helping students facing financial challenges avoid unmanageable debt obligations, officials at Student Freedom Initiative say that they will enable students and their families to seek higher education without sacrificing their economic security or post-college career options.
The partnership is being supported by billionaire Robert F. Smith, who made news when he announced he would pay off the student loan debt of the graduating class at Morehouse’s commencement ceremony last year. In October, Smith also made a $50 million donation to the Student Freedom Initiative.
“The Student Freedom Initiative is inspired by our common goal of liberating the human spirit by removing the systemic barriers that prevent students from maximizing their opportunities in life,” said Smith in a statement. “By addressing the financial stress of college and providing students with resources and community, we can finally broaden the talent pipeline and create a more diverse and thriving economy.”
Each participating HBCU will work with the Student Freedom Initiative to help make its products and services available for juniors and seniors majoring in STEM beginning in fall 2021. The data and experiences from the initial HBCUs will then inform future growth and expansion to serve more students, colleges and universities. The partnership received immediate praise, particularly from the presidents of the participating HBCUs.
“Robert F. Smith’s generosity and commitment through the Student Freedom Initiative will make a monumental difference for STEM students at HBCUs,” said Dr. George French, president of Clark Atlanta University. “By creating a financial bridge to support junior and senior STEM majors at HBCUs, our student-scholars and their families will be able to breathe a little easier and sleep a little better knowing that the pathway to attaining their educational dreams will not be clouded by unmanageable financial debt upon graduation.”
Added Dr. Ruth B. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University: “The Student Freedom Initiative arrives just in time. Our students, beset by myriad challenges that limit their choices and aspirations, need better options for financing their education. This Initiative and the commitment it represents from Robert F. Smith and others is the boost needed to encourage them to persist in their goals.”
Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, president of Claflin University said that the Initiative is “consistent with our goal to be among the leading institutions that place a priority on student success. It will also help remove concerns by students and parents regarding the financial challenges of pursuing a high-quality education.”