Robert F. Smith Launching $1.8M Grant Program For HBCU Students
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College is a notoriously tough financial time for many students. With most of their time wrapped up in classes and studying, there’s little left to earn money. What’s worse, if a financial emergency comes up, a large group of students of color aren’t able to ask their family for support. 

Robert F. Smith, the billionaire businessman that famously paid off the student loan debt for Morehouse students in 2020, is back at it again for other HBCU students in need. 

His organization, the Student Freedom Initiative recently announced their partnership with Prudential Financial who is providing $1.8 million in microgrants to HBCU students. According to  a news release, Prudential will also provide paid internships and pro bono services to enable improved financial literacy for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) families and students.

“Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities,” said Robert F. Smith, Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative in a news release. “By enabling the launch of the HELPS Program, a vital component of our work to address the holistic needs of HBCU students and families, Prudential’s gift will provide long-needed and often overlooked aid and support persistence of those most vulnerable in our community.”

The Student Freedom Initiative said Prudential’s grant will propel the launch of the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program, a service to address unexpected, one-time expenses disproportionately faced by Black students, furthering Student Freedom Initiative and Prudential’s shared commitment to close the racial wealth gap. 

“At Prudential, we’ve spent decades working to close the financial divide, in part through partnerships that address systemic barriers to economic, social, and racial equity,” said Sarah Keh, vice president, Inclusive Solutions, at Prudential Financial. “As part of our multi pronged strategy to support HBCUs, our partnership with Student Freedom Initiative will help us scale solutions so that more Black students will remain in college and ultimately graduate, putting them on a path to financial security.”

“Over 75% of students at HBCUs are considered low-income, relying on Pell Grants to meet their college expenses. However, for many of these students, these grants are not enough,” added Mark A. Brown, Executive Director of Student Freedom Initiative.

“During recent onsite visits at multiple HBCUs, we learned from executive leadership and student focus groups that many of our students are unable to overcome financial challenges for expenses that are not directly related to the cost of college. These expenses, left unaddressed, can derail their college plans. In addition, most of these students lack the necessary financial literacy to make informed decisions, though they are asked to sign complex promissory notes that could indebt them well into their adult lives. Further, while some may have support from parents through costly Parent PLUS loans, many of these students have reported feeling personally responsible for any negative effects these loans had on their families. With additional financial support from sponsors, we can ensure that more HBCUs and eligible students will not be forced to choose between their education or their financial wellbeing if met with a hardship during the course of their studies.”

Students may begin taking advantage of Student Freedom Initiative’s HELPS Program starting in the Spring semester 2022.