HBCU Loan Debt: Student Freedom Initiative Saves Black Students

Mark Brown, Executive Director, Student Freedom Initiative. | Source: Student Freedom Initiative / Student Freedom Initiative

IIt’s no secret that the impact of student loan debt can be crippling for the future of many people in the country.

In most cases, the damage is even worse for black students who attend HBCUss due to the increased financial need to fund their educational experience due to the racial wealth gap and racist financial practices that have thwarted black people since the inception of this country.

The weight of bad student loan deals can alter not only the trajectory of an individual’s life, but also the possibility of generational wealth for an entire family.

The Student Freedom Initiative is one of the organizations trying to correct this problem by providing social and economic mobility for STEM students studying juniors and seniors at HBCU for years to come.

black billionaire Robert F. Smithfounder and president of the Student Freedom Initiative, has been advocating for the release of students from student loans for some time. He made headlines in 2019 after spending around $38 million to pay off debt for around 400 Morehouse College graduate students that year.

Now Smith and his Foundation Fund II are each contributing $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative to create a pathway for HBCU students to achieve financial freedom.

One of the main goals of the organization is to eliminate the Parent PLUS loan and create a constant source of funding to be able to help students graduate.

“The reason for the fund is to create a no-walls endowment for all participating HBCUs so that never again will a junior or senior student majoring in STEM need to find themselves in that Parent Plus debt trap,” Mark Brown , the executive director of the Student Freedom Initiative, told NewsOne in an exclusive interview. “[The students] will still be able to do it in a different way and keep their parents from getting into debt five times more often than others and keep students in debt twice as long.

Students could receive up to $20,000 per school year to help them achieve their educational goals. Then, once students find employment after graduation, they will contribute 2.5% of their income to the program for every $10,000 borrowed from the Fund. According to Brown, individuals would not repay the program if they went to college or earned below the poverty line.

“The most valuable thing a student has is the degree they will put on the wall,” Brown said. “If we invest in them persevering through graduation, we’re doing the holistic thing and I don’t think there’s another product that takes a holistic approach like this.”

The organization also has an internship program that matches HBCU students with companies that offer paid internships, a student emergency fund, cybertechnology upgrades for HBCUs, and other services.

Often, when discussing the scope of student aid at historically black colleges and universities, it is only in the context of grants and scholarships. But a more holistic approach could give HBCU students a better chance at success.

This includes investing in the overall financial stability of these HBCU students, not just getting them to their graduation day and leaving them to fend for themselves with all the odds stacked against them. The Student Freedom Initiative is setting a precedent for how to think about financial freedom for HBCU students.

“It’s not just about getting the last mile of funding for college,” Brown added. “It’s having the social and economic mobility that comes with a very well-paying job.”

Brown said the Student Freedom Initiative eventually wants to grow enough to be able to provide every HBCU student with access to financial alternatives. He already works with dozens of HBCUs and has provided assistance to over 100 students so far.

“We can’t grow fast enough,” Brown said. “The economic need of our students is great.


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