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November 23, 2020

Student Freedom Initiative Announces Participating HBCUs For Fall 2021 Academic Year

Nov. 23, 2020

Student Freedom Initiative Announces Participating HBCUs For Fall 2021 Academic Year
Program will provide an alternative to high-cost college loans and empower students for success

November 23, 2020 07:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Student Freedom Initiative today announced the initial Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that will participate in its program.

The selected institutions 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.

The Student Freedom Initiative will provide eligible students at the participating institutions with an income-contingent financing alternative to high cost, fixed payment debt obligations, along with holistic support services, including internships and mentoring. By helping students facing financial challenges avoid unmanageable debt obligations, the Student Freedom Initiative will enable students and their families to seek higher education without sacrificing their economic security or post-college career options.

“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 founder Robert F. Smith. “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.”

“We have assembled a great team of subject matter experts committed to the vision of removing barriers to professional and life choices for students,” said Keith B. Shoates, Executive Director of the Student Freedom Initiative. “Success will require collaboration, creativity, courage, and flexibility. We appreciate the hard work and due diligence, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the HBCU leadership and their respective teams who worked with us over the last nine months to make this announcement possible. These HBCUs are ideal partners as we continue to build and refine a program that is student-centered, evidence-based, and holistic.”

“2020 has been a deeply challenging year, but also an inspiring one as we’ve seen educators, philanthropists, business leaders, and elected officials stand up to find solutions that have plagued our country for far too long,” said Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund. “The Student Freedom Initiative holds the promise to make a real difference in the lives of thousands of students, and across our communities.”

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 Fall 2021. The data and experiences from the initial HBCUs will then inform future growth and expansion to serve more students and colleges and universities.

Remarks from the Presidents of participating HBCUs:

1) Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack (Claflin University)

“Claflin University is pleased and excited about the Student Freedom Initiative. It will provide tremendous opportunities for our aspiring STEM students. This initiative is also 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. We are thankful to Robert F. Smith and his amazing team for including Claflin University in the first cohort of participating institutions and look forward to a successful endeavor with the Student Freedom Initiative.”

2) Dr. George French (Clark Atlanta University)

“Robert F. Smith’s generosity and commitment through the Student Freedom Initiative will make a monumental difference for STEM students at HBCUs. Clark Atlanta University is greatly appreciative to be included in the first cohort of HBCUs to benefit from this innovative program. 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.”

3) Dr. Larry Robinson (Florida A&M University)

“The Student Freedom Initiative is an innovative approach to helping students address one of their most significant challenges during matriculation and in their professional careers — debt. With added economic challenges to students and parents caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the timing of this alternative financing option couldn’t be better. It is indeed an honor for FAMU to be a member of this initial cohort of institutions.”

4) Dr. William R. Harvey (Hampton University)

“Hampton University is pleased to take part in the Student Freedom Initiative during the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year. We are proud to be one of the HBCUs participating in the launch of the Student Freedom Initiative, which offers an affordable funding alternative to students, specifically for STEM majors in their junior and senior years. We feel the program’s core values of being student-centric, evidence-based and holistic align well with our mission to produce students that set THE Standard of Excellence.”

5) Dr. David A. Thomas (Morehouse College)

“Morehouse College is proud to be a partner school in the Student Freedom Initiative. This is the most significant effort using private philanthropy to address the fundamental issue of college affordability and student debt of which I am aware. Most significant is its focus on HBCUs, whose students usually graduate with student loan obligations higher than the national average. Hopefully, others will follow the lead of Robert F. Smith and expand this effort into a national model.”

6) Dr. Ruth J. Simmons (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.”

7) Dr. Carmen J. Walters (Tougaloo College)

“With the rising cost of higher education, we must continue to seek solutions to provide deserving students with an opportunity to pursue a college education. Year after year, Historically Black Colleges and Universities welcome students onto our respective campuses with the mission of instilling educational, cultural, social, and professional enrichment. Now, more than ever, we must remain committed to investing in our HBCUs and preparing the next generation of scholars and leaders.”

8) Dr. Lily McNair & Dr. Charlotte Morris (Tuskegee University)

“Robert F. Smith and his team have put a tremendous amount of work in developing a leading edge, innovative program to partner with Tuskegee and other HBCUs. The Student Freedom Initiative will not only provide affordable financing options for our students, it will also expand our work with leading R1 universities. Working together, TU and its partners will pursue transformative grants that can accelerate our work across the STEM disciplines.

The Initiative will be specifically tailored to our students’ needs, giving them access to a host of new and interesting opportunities.”

9) Dr. Reynold Verret (Xavier University of Louisiana)

“Thank you for this initiative that profoundly reduces the debt burden of our students. This enables them to refine their talents and to be of service to our communities and nation.”


Keith Shoates