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March 11, 2021

Student Freedom Initiative Names Mark A. Brown Executive Director

March 11, 2021

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) today announced the selection of Mark A. Brown to serve as Executive Director. Having served as the Chief Operating Officer for Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education where he managed the $1.7 trillion federal student loan program, Mark brings significant experience, insight, and first-hand knowledge of student loans and their impacts on students and families across the United States.

“We are thrilled to welcome Mark to the team,” said Robert F. Smith, who serves as Chairman of SFI. “Following an extensive search, it became clear that Mark is the ideal candidate to take the helm of SFI. As a Tuskegee University graduate, retired U.S. Air Force general with more than thirty years of distinguished service, Mark has dedicated his life to public service and helping students. I look forward to working closely with Mark to lead SFI to the next stage of growth supported by Keith Shoates, who served as interim Executive Director, and who will remain with SFI as Chief Operating Officer.” Smith said.

Launched in March 2020, the Student Freedom Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). In October 2020, Robert F. Smith personally donated $50 million to seed a significant expansion of SFI.

“I am excited by the opportunity to continue my service in higher education with the Student Freedom Initiative. With HBCU and MSI students disproportionately burdened by student debt, I know that SFI’s holistic solution can make a real difference,” said Mark A. Brown. “The SFI team has achieved much in a short period of time, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to building on this progress and working closely with the board as we continue to expand our commitment to students’ success by alleviating the burden of student debt.”

SFI provides holistic support through four primary components: (1) Income contingent funding alternative to fixed payment obligations, (2) Internships, (3) Targeted HBCU capacity building, and (4) Tutoring, mentoring, and other student services. On 23 November 2020, SFI announced nine participating HBCUs, who identified the qualified STEM majors for eligible juniors and seniors starting with the Fall 2021 academic year. With a continual emphasis on remaining student-centered, evidence based, and holistic, SFI has made available an online student interest capture portal for those who want to be informed when the online application and comparison calculator will be available.

The Student Freedom Initiative has received more than $100 million in pledges thus far, including a recent generous contribution from the Walmart Foundation as part of its first round of grants for The Center for Racial Equity. In addition, the program has been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education.

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The Student Freedom Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for junior and senior students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Student Freedom Initiative is student-centered, evidence-based, and holistic. SFI enables the social and economic mobility of participants through four transformative components, including an income contingent alternative to fixed payment obligations used to finance college, internships, mentoring, tutoring, and other student services, as well as targeted HBCU capacity building. SFI collaborates with community-based organizations, businesses, and governmental entities through public-private partnerships to make sustainable, systemic changes to support the entire HBCU ecosystem. To learn more, visit


Dafna Tapiero