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May 21, 2021

Student Freedom Initiative announces $150 million partnership

May 21, 2021

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) today announced a strategic partnership with Cisco and AVC Technologies, with Cisco committing $100 million in networking, security and collaboration technologies to further SFI’s mission of making sustainable, impact-driven investments to unlock the potential of the entire HBCU ecosystem, their communities, and their students. In addition, AVC Technologies and Cisco will provide ongoing technical support.

Cisco will also invest $50 million to support SFI’s income contingent alternative to traditional college loans to eligible students attending HBCUs. This $50 million anchor investment is the first step to helping SFI reach its goal of a $450 million endowment supporting 4,500 students in perpetuity.

“We are thrilled to welcome Cisco and AVC Technologies as strategic partners for SFI in addressing the digital divide faced by our HBCUs,” said Robert F. Smith, Chairman of SFI. “Their expertise and generosity will ensure that HBCUs are secure and robust institutions that empower Black students. And Cisco’s added financial commitment to students, making them the first anchor corporate partner of SFI, will help liberate students from crushing debt and allow them to make their own life choices. Their gift to SFI’s endowment is a call-to-action to other corporate leaders to join our cause.”

“Cisco is proud to support SFI and all HBCUs in this endeavor, which reinforces our purpose to power an inclusive future for all,” said Maria Martinez, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, Cisco. “This partnership is an investment in our future workforce, empowering AA/Black STEM students and equipping them with the financial and technology tools to be resilient and successful long term. We remain committed to this community – to be seen, heard, valued, and invested in.”

In collaboration with UNCF and Thurgood Marshall College Fund, this strategic partnership will be an initial step in the digital transformation of HBCUs and assist them as they fortify their underlying infrastructure against cyber threats. AVC Technologies will work directly with HBCUs to identify gaps between their existing infrastructure and the requirements identified by the Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) and install the necessary solutions to address these gaps. Cisco will provide the solutions to be installed by AVC Technologies and provide one year of support following installation. SFI will provide end-to-end project integration and management to ensure a seamless transition.

“On behalf of the SFI and the HBCUs who have already partnered with us, we are grateful to the executive leadership teams, spearheaded by Chuck Robbins and Xavier Williams who have worked with our team over the past year to design a secure infrastructure to foster innovation and business growth within these communities,” added Mark A. Brown, Executive Director of SFI. “Their corporate response further exemplifies the principle of Paying It Forward put forth by Robert F. Smith at the May 19, 2019 Morehouse Graduation Commencement. Collectively addressing the challenges faced by HBCUs, this strategic partnership will enable expanded opportunities and address the issues that affect these institutions which have served as a beacon of hope for many students seeking a higher education.”

Xavier Williams, CEO of AVC Technologies, added, “With our teams already on the ground to lay initial groundwork with HBCU staff, we are eager to deliver on our commitment and status as a Cisco Gold Triple Master Partner to enable compliance with cyber security requirements, install the solution(s) to mitigate any gaps, collaborate with SFI and the HBCUs as they define their long-term strategy for leveraging these solutions to meet other HBCU-unique objectives.”

“Collectively SFI, Cisco and AVC Technology will bring meaningful, sustained, and measurable opportunities to advance the HBCU ecosystem,” added Keith B. Shoates, Chief Operating Officer of SFI. “Provided the opportunity to participate via the platform in the modernization efforts at their respective HBCUs, these students will obtain practical hands-on experience, training, and certifications in the technologies of the future; and we’ll build a qualified pipeline of diverse talent from HBCUs. This is just the beginning, as we continue to seek partners to join us in providing evidence-based, holistic, student centered support and creating a self-sustaining financial product that provides an alternative to traditional student loans.”

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). To date, SFI has received over $100 million in pledges, 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.


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 or find us on Twitter @StuFreedomOrg.


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