Student Freedom Initiative Inaugurates Launch at HBCU Campuses Across U.S. Read more.

Our Approach Is Holistic

How it Works

How it Works

We provide freedom in professional and life choices for juniors and seniors majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at HBCUs.  In close collaboration with participating institutions and strategic partners, we provide an income contingent alternative to high cost student loans, internships, mentoring/tutoring, and targeted capacity building. Our 5-year goal is a self-funded program to all STEM juniors and seniors at all HBCUs

The SFI Model

Leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of donated permanent donate capital and additional funding sources, the Student Freedom Initiative remains anchored in our three core values and sustains 5,000 new students each year, enabling better outcomes. We partner with participating schools and like-minded organizations to provide access to student success services and targeted capacity building.

The Outcomes

With inputs from stakeholders, we developed outcomes aligned with our mission:

  1. Liberate students to make professional and life choices
  2. Increase African-American economic mobility via STEM
  3. Provide more favorable terms and flexibility
  4. Institutionalize a scalable platform to eventually support all students at MSIs
  5. Enable HBCU digital transformation & reduction in the digital divide
  6. Provide transformative model for policy, researchers, and student advocates
The SFI Model
Man smiling



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).


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.


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.


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.


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 Agreement page to check your eligibility and indicate your interest to be notified by email when the application and comparison calculator becomes available.


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.