Skip to content
November 18, 2021

Student Freedom Initiative Announces $1.8 Million Grant from Prudential Financial to Launch the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program

Nov. 18, 2021

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021–(BUSINESS WIRE)–As resources are directed towards Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across America, there remains an ongoing crisis among HBCU students of failing to matriculate due to unforeseen, emergency expenses. According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans – predominantly Black and minority Americans – would have difficulty covering an emergency $400 expense, relying on borrowing the money from friends or family or incurring further credit card debt.

To provide this urgently needed aid, Student Freedom Initiative today announced catalytic support from Prudential Financial, with Prudential providing $1.8 million in microgrants to HBCU students in an effort to accelerate economic mobility and close the financial divide. Prudential will also provide paid internships and pro bono services to enable improved financial literacy for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) families and students.

This grant from Prudential will support the launch of the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program, a crucial service to address unexpected, one-time expenses disproportionately faced by Black students, furthering Student Freedom Initiative and Prudential’s shared commitment to close the racial wealth gap. Launching as a three-year pilot program with nine HBCUs, the HELPS Program supplements HBCU-provided resources and will be launched with the Spring 2022 academic year at participating institutions. Students who qualify will receive supplemental funds to address emergent financial issues that present a risk to the student’s ability to matriculate, including issues that may cause immediate risk to a student’s health, life, property, or environment, requiring immediate attention.

In recent conversations with HBCU presidents, many detailed the challenges their students face, particularly in this hybrid environment. One president recalled how one of their students was unable to fully participate on camera for class – a requirement – due to a damaged computer, adversely impacting the student’s grades.

Another president described always keeping petty cash in their office, at one time providing a student $300 to cover an unexpected expense. The student later told the president had it not been for that $300, it is likely they would not have graduated at all.

With the implementation of the HELPS program, students like these can now access critical microgrants to support their persistence to graduation.

Committed to a fully inclusive workforce within its own ranks, Prudential will also provide paid internships via the platform, which pairs highly qualified, rising sophomores through seniors across all majors with companies seeking diverse talent. There are over 220 companies, over 14,000 students, and 1,300+ Course Learning Management Systems on the platform. In addition, Prudential will collaborate with Student Freedom Initiative and the participating institutions to prepare and conduct age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, financial literacy education and training for students, in a format that is culturally sensitive and recognizes the current hybrid model employed by these institutions.

“Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities,” said Robert F. Smith, Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative. “By enabling the launch of the HELPS Program, a vital component of our work to address the holistic needs of HBCU students and families, Prudential’s gift will provide long-needed and often overlooked aid and support persistence of those most vulnerable in our community.”

“At Prudential, we’ve spent decades working to close the financial divide, in part through partnerships that address systemic barriers to economic, social, and racial equity,” said Sarah Keh, vice president, Inclusive Solutions, at Prudential Financial. “As part of our multiprong strategy to support HBCUs, our partnership with Student Freedom Initiative will help us scale solutions so that more Black students will remain in college and ultimately graduate, putting them on a path to financial security.”

“Over 75% of students at HBCUs are considered low-income, relying on Pell Grants to meet their college expenses. However, for many of these students, these grants are not enough,” added Mark A. Brown, Executive Director of Student Freedom Initiative. “During recent onsite visits at multiple HBCUs, we learned from executive leadership and student focus groups that many of our students are unable to overcome financial challenges for expenses that are not directly related to the cost of college. These expenses, left unaddressed, can derail their college plans. In addition, most of these students lack the necessary financial literacy to make informed decisions, though they are asked to signed complex promissory notes that could indebt them well into their adult lives. Further, while some may have support from parents through costly Parent PLUS loans, many of these students have reported feeling personally responsible for any negative affects these loans had on their families. With additional financial support from sponsors, we can ensure that more HBCUs and eligible students will not be forced to choose between their education or their financial wellbeing if met with a hardship during the course of their studies.”

Students may begin taking advantage of Student Freedom Initiative’s HELPS Program starting in the Spring semester 2022. Visit HELPS Program to learn more.

About Student Freedom Initiative

A single purpose nonprofit organization, Student Freedom Initiative provides a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (“MSIs”) by increasing their social and economic mobility using a student centric, evidence based, holistic, and collaborative approach. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Student Freedom Initiative enables mobility through four transformational components: (1) Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus and Private Loans, (2) Internships, (3) Tutoring/Mentorships/Other Services, and (4) Targeted HBCU Capacity Building. Student Freedom Initiative 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 date, Student Freedom Initiative has received generous contributions from our anchor donors Robert F. Smith, Fund II Foundation, and Cisco Systems, and many others who have provided financial and/or in-kind services. The program has also been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education.

To learn more, visit or find us on Twitter @StudentFreedom.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a global financial services leader and premier active global investment manager with more than $1.5 trillion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees help make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit


Dafna Tapiero,