Billionaire Robert F. Smith announced earlier this week a new initiative that aims to limit student loans for students at historically Black colleges and universities, Time magazine reported.
The Student Freedom Initiative will launch in fall 2021 at up to 11 HBCUs -- the exact list of colleges is still being determined. The program will offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors an alternative to private student loans. Unlike a scholarship, students will be required to pay back the support they receive from the initiative through income-based repayments.
The initiative will launch with a $50 million grant from Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and president. The foundation has set a goal to raise $500 million by October, with the goal of creating a self-sustaining program through investments and graduates' repayments.
Similar income-share agreements have been criticized in the past. Skeptics argue that high-earning graduates could end up paying more than they would with traditional student loans and that such agreements lock students into long repayment terms. Supporters say that the programs are innovative ways to fund higher education at a time when concerns about traditional forms of student debt run high. The discussion is particularly important in this case because studies have shown student loan debt can be a particular burden for Black borrowers, with Black students more likely to default on loans than white students.
Smith made headlines last year when he donated $34 million to Morehouse College, paying off student debt for 400 graduates.