Billionaire Pays $34 Million to Settle Morehouse Student Loan Debt

Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor who promised to pay off the student loan debt for the Morehouse College class of 2019, also paid the load debt of the students’ parents.

In May, Smith vowed to pay off the student loan debt for the nearly 400 spring graduates at the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), the college said in a press release on September 20.

“Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman & CEO of Vista Equity Partners, and his family have donated $34 million to the new Morehouse College Student Success Program to pay off the loans that students and parents of the Class of 2019 accumulated to fund a Morehouse education,” the college wrote in the news release.

Smith surprised staff, faculty, and the graduating class of 2019 when he announced that he and his family would effectively eliminate graduates’ student loan debt. The all-male senior class cheered and cried in celebration following the announcement. During his speech, Smith told the graduating class that he knows they will pay it forward one day.

“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said. “We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

In August, Morehouse College announced the launch of the Morehouse College Student Success Program. The college states the new program “will solicit and accept donations made specifically to reduce or eliminate the student loan debt of Morehouse Men and their parents or guardians, thus creating an opportunity for greater financial freedom for new alumni and their families.” President of Morehouse College David A. Thomas said in a statement that he hopes Smith’s donation and the program will change the lives of the graduates.

“This liberation gift from Robert Smith — the first of its kind to be announced at a graduation in higher education — will be life-changing for our new Morehouse Men and their families,” Thomas said. “It is our hope that our graduates will use their newfound financial freedom to pursue their career goals, to lead and serve the community, and to remember the spirit of the gift given to them by paying it forward to support the education of future classes of Morehouse Men.”

The program, created by the Board of Trustees, will also study the impact of student loan debt. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) found that 80 percent of students at HBCU’s use federal loans to help with the cost of education. The fund also discovered that HBCU graduates borrow $26,266 on average to help fund their education, which is almost twice as much as non-HBCU students. Morehouse College stated that its graduates’ student loan debt ranges from $35,000 and $40,000.

“The Morehouse College Board of Trustees believes that student loan debt can be an obstacle in the path of Morehouse Men that can cause them to delay enrolling in advanced degree programs, working as K-12 teachers, or pursuing other interests that they are passionate about,” Thomas said in a previous statement. “The Morehouse College Student Success Program will provide students with a liberating gift that will wipe away or greatly reduce their student loans, allowing them to pursue their dreams and lead lives of leadership and service immediately after graduation.”

“We, at Morehouse, see the Student Success Program as an important step toward improving outcomes for our graduates and addressing the income disparities that people of color experience when they are overburdened by debt,” Thomas continued.

Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, praised Morehouse’s new program and the impact of Smith’s gift.

“Morehouse’s program to provide debt relief to new graduates is a fund-raising opportunity that should be studied and duplicated nationally,” Lomax said in a previous statement. “The impact of such a gift, particularly for minority or economically disadvantaged families, could accelerate the growth of a more diverse and robust middle class.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.