Philanthropist Robert F. Smith is adding to his reputation of generosity with a $50 million donation to the Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization that strives to uplift students attending HBCUs. According to Businesswire, Smith made the announcement last week, expressing his ongoing effort to relieve students from debt

“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,” the chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners said. “A college education should empower and prepare our next generation for a limitless future." 

As Blavity previously reported, the philanthropist also gave a gift to Morehouse College Class in 2019, donating $34 million to allow graduates to begin their careers without worrying about debt. 

"The Student Freedom Initiative is a culmination of work that followed my gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019," Smith said after his latest contribution. "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.”

Before announcing the $50 million personal gift last week, the richest Black man in the country supported the initiative with another $50 million grant through his Fund II Foundation, Face2Face Africa reported. The foundation aims to raise at least $500 million for the program this fall. 

According to the Brookings Institution, HBCU students typically take out more loans than students at other institutions, finishing bachelor’s degree programs with an average debt of $7,400 more than their white peers. 

“You think about these students graduating and then plowing so much of their wealth opportunity into supporting this student debt, that’s a travesty in and of itself,” Smith told Time magazine.

The Student Freedom Initiative is expected to be available at 11 HBCUs this fall, helping students avoid high-interest, fixed-payment private student loans and Parent PLUS loans. 

Dr. Michael Lomax, a board member of the Student Freedom Initiative, expressed his gratitude for Smith and emphasized the significance of the program, particularly for students in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

“This is the only structure that we know of that has been built for HBCUs to support students at scale and that does not depend on the endowment of a university or funding by for-profit funders,” Lomax said. “Robert F. Smith’s extraordinary philanthropy is a giant first step toward a self-sustaining pool of funds that we can invest in promising students, particularly those pursuing STEM careers.”

According to Businesswire, 65% of the wealth of Black families is caught up in debt because of education. The Student Freedom Initiative not only aims to erase the accumulating debt but also encourages graduates to give back to their communities in the future.  

“It’s important that we do these things at scale and en masse because that’s how you lift up entire communities,” Smith said. “Of course, we all like the great one story, but I want thousands of these stories. 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.”

At the beginning of October, Smith admitted to tax evasion and was required to pay the government $139 million, as Blavity previously reported. The Justice Department accused him of creating shell companies that are primarily used by wealthy individuals to hide money and avoid paying taxes. 

In addition to paying the government, Smith agreed to forgo $182 million in charitable contribution deductions.