Billionaire Robert Smith Pledges to Pay Off Morehouse Grads’ Student Loan Debt

The nearly 400 members of Morehouse College’s graduating class of 2019 received more than a diploma on May 19. Commencement speaker Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor, announced in his speech that he and his family would pay the graduates’ student debt.

“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith said towards the end of his address at Morehouse’s 135th commencement. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

His announcement took just a few seconds to sink in. Professors and speakers sitting behind Smith looked on in awe before 396 graduates erupted in celebration. The all-male senior class cheered, jumped up, and cried. Smith, who made another donation to Morehouse earlier this year to fund scholarships, told the graduates he knew they would pay it forward. “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,” he said.

Smith has reportedly become increasingly worried about the level of debt students were forced to take on. He surprised both the Morehouse students and staff with his plan, The New York Times reported. Morehouse did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. In a statement to CNN, Morehouse President David A. Thomas referred to Smith’s announcement as a “liberation gift” that will allow graduates to go into business and support their families.

“When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained,” Thomas told CNN. “[Smith’s gift] gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.” Thomas said that the exact amount of student loan debt that will be paid off was still being calculated. It is estimated that the gift will reach up to $40 million, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic,” Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Harlem resident said he has $90,000 in student debt.

Fellow graduate Brandon Manor told The New York Times that Smith’s gift was a blessing that would allow him to apply to a wider number of medical schools. “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans,” Manor said. According to Morehouse, tuition for the upcoming academic year is $14,423 for a full load of classes. That amount does not include room and board, which can exceed $9,400.

Student loan debt in 2019 has reached historic levels. Estimates show more than 44 million borrowers owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the US, Forbes reported. Student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt category, beating out credit card and auto loan debt.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.