Fund II Foundation founding director and president Robert Frederick Smith is launching an initiative aimed at addressing the disproportionate student loan burden of and expanding educational and career opportunities for African Americans, Time reports.
Established with a $50 million grant from the Fund II Foundation, the Student Freedom Initiative will offer African-American juniors and seniors majoring in STEM fields at historically black colleges and universities a flexible, lower-risk alternative to private high-interest student loans. With the goal of supporting five thousand new students annually at up to eleven HBCUs starting in the fall of 2021, the initiative hopes to raise at least $500 million by October to make the program "self-sustaining" through investments and graduates' income-based repayments.
The initiative's partners include UNCF chief executive Michael L. Lomax; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University; the Jain Family Institute; and the Education Finance Institute.
The chair and CEO of Vista Equity Partners and the wealthiest African-American man in the United States, Smith donated $34 million last year to pay off the student debt of Morehouse College's class of 2019. In 2016, the Fund II Foundation awarded $48 million to establish a STEM Scholars Program at UNCF.
"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," said Smith during a TIME100 Talks discussion.
"We are most recently committed to relieving student debt through our latest grant to the Student Freedom Initiative; not only do we intend to remove the soul-crushing debt of tuition but also the opportunity to follow their true calling without settling for a numbing career," the Fund II Foundation said in a statement on its website. "We will continue to fight the good fight. We will work with the thousands of students we serve, many of whom have asked not why this happened (they know the everyday effects of racism) but what can they do now."