The Student Freedom Initiative
The Student Freedom Initiative is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an initial emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). This innovative and student-centered program aims to free students from the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt, while also serving as a catalyst to help students attain the skills and confidence they will need after graduation to navigate their personal and professional pathways.
The Student Freedom Initiative’s program will launch in the fall of 2021 and will include the following key components:
- Income-contingent funding alternative for rising junior and senior STEM majors
- Student support resources, such as tutoring and mentoring
- Targeted institutional capacity-building support
Who is eligible to participate in the Student Freedom Initiative's Program?
The Student Freedom Initiative has certain programming features that will be open to all Morehouse students, including most of the Initiative’s student support resources. This will include access to tutoring, mentoring, and internships.
The Initiative’s income-contingent funding alternative, called the Student Freedom Agreement, will initially be limited to rising juniors and seniors (by credit) majoring in approved STEM programs. Morehouse College administration, in collaboration with the Student Freedom Initiative, has approved the following majors for participation in the Initiative’s Student Freedom Agreement:
- Applied Physics
- Computer Science
- Software Engineering
To be eligible to receive funds under a Student Freedom Agreement, qualifying students also must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or acceptable state alternative, be enrolled full-time (with limited exceptions), and maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward completion of their eligible degree program.
How does the initiative's funding alternative work?
Eligible students can apply to receive a portion of their education funding from the Student Freedom Initiative beginning with the fall 2021 semester. In return for this funding, students will enter into a Student Freedom Agreement and commit to making payments to the Student Freedom Initiative for a certain amount of time after leaving college that are based on their incomes. All payments made by graduates are recycled back into the Initiative’s program, to the benefit of future students.
The Student Freedom Agreement should be factored in as just one portion of a student’s total financial aid package. The agreement is not designed to replace state or institutional aid, or any federal grants, work-study funds, or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. The Student Freedom Agreement aims to cover a student’s remaining costs of attendance, as an alternative to Parent PLUS loans and high-interest private student loans.
The Student Freedom Agreement may not be the best alternative for every student. Therefore, students should work with their financial aid counselor to understand the alternatives and make an informed decision on what is in their unique best interest — considering all of the features of the traditional student loan and the Student Freedom Agreement.
For more information on the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement and the application process, please visit the Student Freedom Initiative’s website. Students interested in applying for a Student Freedom Agreement should also carefully read all the documents provided by the Student Freedom Initiative during the application and approval process, as they will contain important information about the detailed terms of the Student Freedom Agreement.
What is the history of the Student Freedom Initiative?
Morehouse College has a special connection with the Student Freedom Initiative. The Initiative grew out of the vision of Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, to expand student opportunity beyond his transformative gift to the Morehouse graduating class of 2019.
Immediately following his 2019 gift to Morehouse graduates, Mr. Smith challenged a team of dedicated individuals to develop a solution that scaled to serve more MSI/HBCU students, who have historically been disproportionately affected by loan debt. Mr. Smith inspired the group to find a way to create a lasting program based on a “Pay It Forward” paradigm, under which current participants provide the funding for future students. Funds would be provided to an initial set of students, and amounts received back from them would be used to support future generations of students, instead of allowing investors to profit from those least able to afford it. He also charged the team to go beyond merely alleviating the financial burdens on these students and to develop a program that included holistic student support services and assistance for modernizing MSI/HBCU infrastructure.
Working with Dr. David A. Thomas and the presidents of a number of other HBCUs, and partnering with several like-minded organizations and recognized experts, the team met the challenge, and the Student Freedom Initiative was born. Partners in the development and initial implementation of the Student Freedom Initiative program have included:
- Education Finance Institute,
- Fund II Foundation (InternX),
- Jain Family Institute,
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
- UNCF, and
- Vista Equity Partners.
Following in the tradition of his 2019 gift to Morehouse graduates, Mr. Smith also personally pledged $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative, which is intended to allow the Initiative to support 500 STEM juniors and seniors per year, every year, for the entire future of the program.
Learn more about the Student Freedom Initiative: