We Provide a Catalyst for Freedom

Who We Are

Who We Are

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 close collaboration with participating schools and other organizations, we provide both an income-contingent funding option for education costs via our “Student Freedom Agreement” and other tools and resources intended to enhance the higher education experience and broaden student outlooks for career paths. Through strategic partnerships, we also provide targeted support to participating schools.

Our program is expected to launch in the fall of 2021, and our efforts will initially be focused on junior and senior STEM majors at select Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Please see our FAQs below for more information.

In pursuing our mission, we will always remain anchored in our core values.

In pursuing our mission, we will always remain anchored in our core values.

Student-Centered

We will remain focused on the best interests of students and their families, recognizing that their success also benefits their communities, employers, and MSIs.

Evidence-Based

We will refine and adjust our program to optimize student outcomes based on a continuous analysis of data from students, graduates, and other stakeholders throughout the life of our program.

Holistic

We understand that student success is not based solely on financial considerations and our own efforts, so we will collaborate with MSIs and others to develop and implement a suite of support services for students and the schools that they attend.

Happy Graduates
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We take a holistic approach in our drive to empower and prepare the next generation for a limitless future.

Income-Contingent Funding

Income-Contingent Funding

We offer eligible students an income-contingent funding option for education costs via our Student Freedom Agreement. In exchange for funding, students agree to make payments to us that are based on what they earn after leaving college. The student-centric terms of our Student Freedom Agreements offer students a number of financial and non-financial benefits, and all funds received under these arrangements are recycled back into our program.

Tutoring and Mentoring

Tutoring and Mentoring

We collaborate with participating schools, corporate partners, community-based organizations, and others to provide access to a host of student support resources, including tutoring and mentoring. We are also working to offer services such as programming on resume writing, interview techniques, and test-taking techniques, as well as summer immersion programs and academic, career, and mental health counseling.

Internships

Internships

We work with the InternX program to provide students with access to nationwide paid internships with leading STEM companies. The InternX program is strategically designed to match students with employers that fit their interests, providing them with invaluable on-the-job learning experiences, networking opportunities with senior-level executives, and transferable skills for college and future endeavors.

Targeted Capacity-Building

Targeted Capacity-Building

With the help of our partners, we provide targeted support to participating schools for the benefit of their students. For example, we are working to provide students with access to steeply discounted laptops/tablets and productivity software and to provide participating schools with assistance in modernizing their technical infrastructures, obtaining certification of STEM programs, and establishing enhanced collaboration with the federal government, UARCs, and FFRDCs.

FAQs

1

What is the Student Freedom Initiative?

The Student Freedom Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

2

What does the Student Freedom Initiative do?

In 2021, the Student Freedom Initiative launched a program that offers eligible students at participating colleges and universities the option of having a portion of their educational expenses funded under an income-contingent funding arrangement known as a “Student Freedom Agreement,” which can serve as an alternative to high cost, fixed payment debt obligations. The program will also provide holistic support to students — including by providing access to internships, tutoring, mentoring and other educational and career support resources — as well as capacity building support for participating schools.

The Initiative’s efforts will initially be focused on STEM majors at participating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), though we hope to expand in the future.

3

Why was the Student Freedom Initiative created? How is it unique?

The Student Freedom Initiative was created to address the disproportionate student loan debt burden faced by all too many students of color. Structured as a “pay it forward” program, donations and payments made by participating students will enable the Initiative to operate as a self-sustaining program that will benefit future generations of students and their families. Our program is designed so that every $10 million invested in the program will cover 100 new students at MSIs every year, forever.

In addition, our program is holistic and is designed to be student-centric both in its terms and how it is administered. Our support services aim to help better prepare and position students for a limitless future, and our income-contingent funding arrangement liberates students to make career and life choices without being weighed down by burdensome fixed student loan payments, while also protecting them from the unfortunate turns that life sometimes takes. Our program also enables students to give back to their communities and support the schools they graduate from in ways that otherwise may not be possible.

4

Who funds the Student Freedom Initiative?

As a nonprofit public charity, we have raised a significant amount of donated funding that supports our efforts. Among other donations, the Initiative’s initial funding includes a $50 million personal gift from Robert F. Smith — philanthropist and Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners — and a $50 million gift from the Fund II Foundation — a charitable organization committed to advancing social change, of which Mr. Smith is founding director.

In addition, all funds received from students under our Student Freedom Agreements will be recycled back into our program, and we will use these funds to give future students the same opportunities.

5

What is a Student Freedom Agreement? How does it work?

Under our Student Freedom Agreement, the Student Freedom Initiative will provide funds to pay for a portion of an eligible student’s educational expenses. In return, the student agrees to make monthly payments to the Initiative in the future that are based on what they earn after leaving college.

As a program based in equity and community, the basic terms of the Student Freedom Agreement are the same across all participating schools and students. After beginning to make payments, participating students would generally pay an amount equal to 2.5% of their income for every $10,000 in funding received from Student Freedom Initiative to cover future students.  Participants incur no obligation in years where they make less than 225% of the Federal Poverty Level for an individual in the 48 contiguous states and District of Columbia – currently $28,980 per year. These payments are made monthly for a maximum of 20 years, and unlike fixed debt obligations, they rise and fall with a participant’s earnings. In addition to the “downside protection” provided by the income-contingent nature of the payments, there is also a cap on how much a participant is required to pay, which provides protection for those that are high-earners. This payment cap is designed to make sure the overall cost of a Student Freedom Agreement remains lower than the cost of a Parent PLUS loan (paid over the same time period).

The payment obligation ends after a maximum of 20 years, even if the participant has paid less than the amount received or nothing at all.

The student-centric terms of our Student Freedom Agreements also offer additional protections for participants, including, for example:

  • Obligation terminates on bankruptcy, total permanent disability, or death.
  • Participants can elect to defer up to 12 monthly payments for any reason, without the need to demonstrate hardship.
  • Participants can make voluntary contributions to their alma maters.
  • Participants have a strong reason to “do what’s right” in making their payments, because the funds go to support future generations of students.
6

Who is eligible to receive a Student Freedom Agreement?

To be eligible to receive funding under a Student Freedom Agreement, a student must be a U.S. citizen or have a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (or acceptable state alternative), and meet the following other application criteria:

  • ENROLLMENT: Enrolled full time at a participating 4-year, public or private Historically Black College & University.
  • MAJOR: Major in a HBCU approved Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) degree-seeking program at your participating institution.
  • CLASS LEVEL: Rising junior or senior as defined by your school based on credit hours at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year (fall 2021).
  • TAX IDENTIFICATION NUMBER: Must have a valid Social Security Number or a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • ACADEMIC PROGRESS: Maintained Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward completion of the eligible degree program.
  • FINANCIAL AID ELIGIBLE: School-approved FAFSA or alternative application for state financial aid.

*Exception available if less than full-time coursework is required for degree completion in final year.

7

How much funding is available with a Student Freedom Agreement?

The Student Freedom Agreement should be considered just one part of a student’s overall financial aid package. It is not designed to replace any state or institutional aid, or any federal grants, work-study, or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Instead, a Student Freedom Agreement is available to cover a student’s remaining educational expenses after those other aid sources are taken into account and is offered as an alternative to private student loans and Parent PLUS loans.

The cap on funding for each student is currently $20,000 per academic year and $40,000 total. And as with Parent PLUS loans and most private student loans, the total amount of funding received, including under the Student Freedom Agreement, cannot exceed the total “cost of attendance,” as defined by each school’s financial aid office.

8

When will the Student Freedom Agreement be available?

Eligible students at participating schools will be able to receive funding under our Student Freedom Agreements beginning with the fall 2021 semester.

Visit the Student Freedom Initiative student interest capture portal  to check your eligibility and indicate your interest to be notified by email when the application and comparison calculator becomes available.

9

What majors are eligible for a Student Freedom Agreement?

The eligible majors currently include certain majors associated with select science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, as identified by the National Science Foundation. Each participating school has identified the qualifying majors that it offers.

Please refer to the schools page to find out if your major is eligible. Depending on circumstances, the eligible majors may be expanded in the future.

10

What are the participating schools?

The following HBCUs have agreed to participate in the Student Freedom Initiative for the 2021–2022 academic year:

  • Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC)
  • Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA)
  • Florida A&M University (Tallahassee, FL)
  • Hampton University (Hampton, VA)
  • Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA)
  • Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX)
  • Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, MS)
  • Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL)
  • Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans, LA)

Depending on circumstances and interest of other HBCUs and MSIs with eligible majors, we hope to add other schools in the future.

Please refer to the schools page for more information.

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We depend on the generous support of individuals, corporate partners, community advocates, and others to achieve our mission. With your help, we can lift up generations of students and empower them for success.

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