Billionaire to pay off all the student debt of graduating college class
Billionaire Robert F. Smith has said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College's class of 2019.
Smith - who is the founder, chairman and CEO of private equity firm, Vista Equity Partners - announced his intentions on Sunday after giving the commencement address at Atlanta's historically black men's university.
"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus," he told the graduating class. "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans."
Smith referenced Martin Luther King, Jr. during his speech, and spoke about how it's important for African Americans to "acquire the tech skills and be the beneficiaries in sectors that are being automated."
"You are responsible for building strong, safe places where our young brothers and sisters can grow with confidence," he asserted. "Watch and learn from positive role models, and believe that, they too, are entitled to the American Dream."
The news came as a surprise to the 400 or so students, who leapt to their feet in joy.
A spokesperson for the businessman told Buzzfeed News that Smith is "thrilled to invest in these young people and their future."
Graduating student, Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had put together a spreadsheet to work out how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 worth of student debt - 25 years.
"I can delete that spreadsheet," he continued. "I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off."
Smith's generosity garnered quite the response online.
"Just so everyone’s clear: Robert’s gift is estimated at $40 million. It is the largest ever gift to @Morehouse and the single largest gift ever provided to eliminate student debt in the United States. With student debt disproportionately strangling Black people, this is major," wrote one Twitter user, while another corroborated "This morning’s gesture by Robert F Smith to pay off student loan debt for @morehouse graduating class of 2019 by establishing a grant, should be looked at through the lens of the opportunity cost of debt. What opportunities/paths become possible when not burdened by debt?"
US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chimed in, writing "Every Morehouse Class of 2019 student is getting their student debt load paid off by their commencement speaker. This could be the start of what’s known in Econ as a ‘natural experiment.’ Follow these students & compare their life choices w their peers over the next 10-15 years."
"It’s important to note that people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with (aka college should be affordable), but it is an incredible act of community investment in this system as it is."