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April 4, 2024

Student Freedom Initiative, CISCO, and Wells Fargo Sponsor “A Different World” Tour Stop At Howard University on April 9th to Release “The HBCU Shift from Survival and Sustainability to Competitiveness and Transformation”

The new report outlines meaningful steps to foster collaboration and build support for our nation’s HBCUs and MSIs

WASHINGTON, DC [April 3, 2024]Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a non-profit founded by Robert F. Smith, whose aim is to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education, is excited to announce the “A Different World” reunion tour stop at Howard University on Tuesday, April 9th at Cramton Auditorium. Howard ranks among the highest producers of the nation’s Black professionals in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, nursing, architecture, religion, law, music, social work and education.

“A Different World” is a proven way to show the world what an HBCU Experience provides. Conversely, we’ve also asked 60 HBCU Presidents what they need to succeed during their time in a leadership role. Some of the answers include external partnerships and strategic collaborations, visionary leadership, strengthening institutional capacity to improve infrastructure and spawn innovation, and graduating students who elevate the community. We, along with the Center for Study of HBCUs at Virginia Union University and EAB, published these findings and more in our new report, “The HBCU Shift from Survival and Sustainability to Competitiveness and Transformation.”

“I’m thrilled SFI collaborated with Dr. Roderick Smothers, leader for the Center for Study of HBCUs at Virginia Union Universityto release a report about the HBCU shift in the 21st century during the ‘A Different World’ tour stop in Washington, DC at Howard University,” said Dr. Mark A. Brown, SFI’s President and CEO. “What do we mean by the HBCU shift? We mean a shift toward student success, growing endowments, ensuring reliable and affordable technology, and making sure the students who graduate from HBCUs are set up to succeed.”

“Our nation’s HBCUs and other MSIs produce 75% of Ph.D.s, 46% of the Business Executives, 50% of the Engineers, 80% of the Federal Judges, 85% of the Doctors, and 75% of the Veterinarians in African American and minority communities. These institutions are an essential vehicle to uplift our communities and propel the future of our economy,” said Robert F. Smith. “We need leadership and collaboration across the public and private sector, and civil society, to support our nation’s HBCUs and MSIs. I encourage everyone to read the HBCU Shift report by SFI, the Center for the Study of HBCUs at Virginia Union University, and EAB as this report outlines a path forward with meaningful steps that need to be achieved to build strong and sustainable institutions.”

Dr. Smothers added, “The goal of this report is to look at how to grow the success of HBCUs in a post-pandemic era. But the HBCU Shift report is more than just anecdotes; it is a call to action for those who believe in the unparalleled power and potential of HBCUs.”

The report shows what is needed to move into thriving mode from just surviving for the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Here are the top priorities identified from the conversations with the current and former HBCU leaders and stakeholders:

-Enrollment: recruitment and retention of students

-Student Success: making sure they can focus on their studies and not have to worry about how to pay for their education

-Fundraising/endowments: how to grow our partnerships

-Infrastructure/Technology: ensuring reliable technology so students can learn and faculty can teach

EAB is proud to have collaborated on this report and to make it public during the ‘A Different World’ tour in Washington, DC that includes a stop at Howard University, the White House, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. It is our sincere hope the report will unlock tremendous opportunities to create solutions where all stakeholders collectively elevate the social and economic mobility of our communities through students attending HBCUs, MSIs and Tribal Colleges and Universities,” said Pavani Reddy of EAB.

The “A Different World” reunion tour in Washington, DC not only includes Howard University but also stops at the White House (with invitations going out to every HBCU graduate serving in the Biden administration) and at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The case of “A Different World” shows how many current students and working professionals chose to enroll at an HBCU because of the positive role models the show presented, and the tour is aimed at raising funds and encouraging even more enrollment at Howard University and other schools like it. “A Different World” was groundbreaking, showing Black communities that yes, college was indeed an option for them.


About Student Freedom Initiative

A single-purpose nonprofit organization, Student Freedom Initiative aims to reduce the wealth gap through the lens of education. This is achieved by providing 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) Student Freedom Fund as a private education loan alternative to Parent PLUS loans; (2) internships and industry-driven certifications; (3) comprehensive support; and (4) targeted MSI capacity building (e.g., access to affordable broadband, strengthening endowment governance and risk adjusted returns, workforce development in clean energy). 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 MSI ecosystem.

To date, the Student Freedom Initiative has received generous contributions from Robert F. Smith, Fund 2 Foundation,Cisco, Jane Street, Prudential, First Republic and the Walmart Foundation. The program has also been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education. Our ability to provide support to MSI students is based on the continued financial support of these donors and others interested in aiding our mission. To learn more, visit, and follow us on social media @StudentFreedom.