Student Freedom Initiative
The Student Freedom Initiative
Morehouse College students looking for alternatives to traditional loan options and enhanced educational experience may find just that in Student Freedom Initiative. Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit organization that helps students from Minority Serving Institutions achieve their life goals and professional aspirations. The program, launched in fall 2021, initially focuses on students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU Colleges) majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Student Freedom Initiative aims to help HBCU students escape the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt, which often plagues many African American students. What’s more, the initiative serves as a catalyst for freedom in higher education and life choices, by providing students with tools and resources that enhance their educational experiences and pave the way for better career paths. Some of these key aspects of the program include:
- An income-contingent funding alternative
- Tutoring, mentoring and other support services
- Targeted institutional capacity-building support
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE STUDENT FREEDOM INITIATIVE’S PROGRAM?
Student Freedom Initiative’s income-contingent funding alternative is called the Student Freedom Agreement and will initially be limited to rising juniors and seniors, as determined by credit hours, majoring in a STEM field. The Morehouse College administration, in collaboration with Student Freedom Initiative, has approved the following majors for participation in the program:
- Applied Physics
- Computer Science
- General Science
- Software Engineering
To be eligible to receive funding under a Student Freedom Agreement, a student must meet the following other application criteria:
- Have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) or a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- School-approved Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (or acceptable state alternative)
- Enrolled full-time at a participating four-year college or university*
- Rising junior or senior (by credit hours)
- Majoring in an approved science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree-seeking program
- Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward completion of the eligible degree program, as defined by the student’s school for financial aid purposes.
*Exception available if less than full-time coursework is required for degree completion in the final year.
While the financial assistance will only be available to certain STEM students at Morehouse College, select features of the income-contingent funding alternative program will be available to all students regardless of major and class. These features would include support services like internships, mentoring and tutoring.
HOW DOES THE INTITIATIVE’S FUNDING ALTERNATIVE WORK?
Students that meet the criteria outlined in Student Freedom Initiative can apply to have a portion of their college education funded by the program beginning with the fall 2021 semester. Once committed to the program, students will be entered into a Student Freedom Agreement and pledge to pay back into the program once they graduate college.
Graduates who benefited from the program while in college will make fixed payments for a certain period, with the payments based on income. Payment amounts may rise and fall throughout the payment period, as they are income-contingent, and participants will only be asked to make monthly payments for a maximum of 20 years. All payments made by the graduated HBCU students will be recycled into the program to benefit thousands of future students, supporting the next generation.
There are some protections for participants of the program. Participants may forfeit making payments if they file bankruptcy or total, permanent disability. They may also defer up to 12 monthly payments for any reason.
The Student Freedom Agreement should not be considered the only financing option for an HBCU student. Instead, the agreement should be factored in as a portion of a student’s total financial aid package. It will not replace state or institutional aid, federal grants, work-study funds, or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Instead, it is designed to cover the remaining costs of attendance after the aforementioned options are exhausted, acting as an alternative to Parent PLUS loans and high-interest private student loans.
While the program offers many benefits for qualifying students at Morehouse College, it might not be the best alternative funding option for every student. With this in mind, students should work with their financial aid counselors to better understand the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement and all loan options. From there, students can make informed decisions that best meet their interests.
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. View Mr. Smith’s speech and gift announcement at the 135th Commencement at Morehouse College here.
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: