His donation of $34 million, the largest in the university’s history, has been given to the school’s new Student Success Program, an initiative established to limit student loan debt and help Morehouse graduates prosper once they have finished their degrees.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna out a little fuel in your bus,” Smith said during his widely reported speech at the university’s commencement ceremony.
Smith’s gift will wipe out not only the loans that the graduates themselves undertook to pursue an education, but also the debt that their parents and guardians amassed to help their children get an education at the HBCU that boasts alumni such as Samuel L Jackson, Spike Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The donation will cover six types of loans: federal subsidised loans, federal unsubsidised loans, Georgia Student Access Loans, Perkins Loans, Parent Plus Loans and certain private student loans processed through the university.
“This liberation gift from Robert Smith—the first its kind to be announced at a graduation in higher education—will be life-changing for our new Morehouse Men and their families,” President of Morehouse College David A. Thomas said in a press release. “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 Student Success Program will be used to solicit and accept donations made to reduce or eliminate the student loan debt of Morehouse students. The university will also research the freedom that graduates experience in their careers due to having reduced or fully paid off student loans.
“Morehouse’s program to provide debt relief to new graduates is a fund-raising opportunity that should be studied and duplicated nationally,” Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said in a 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.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Smith stated that he hopes that the Student Success Program will be adapted by more colleges and universities to encourage alumni and other supporters to lessen their students’ debt burden and give them the freedom to invest in their families and strength their communities.
“We look forward to charting the progress of those who receive generous support from the Student Success Program,” Thomas said. “We encourage those who receive gifts to pay it forward and help upcoming classes to enjoy a significant level of financial independence from student loan debt.”