Robert F. Smith, the billionaire who announced to great surprise that he would be paying off the student-loan debt for each student of Morehouse College’s 2019 class, had one more surprise up his sleeve.
Morehouse — a private and historically black men’s college in Atlanta — announced in a statement posted to their website on Friday that Smith had followed through on his promise by donating $34 million to the Morehouse College Student Success Program.
This new program will pay off all of the federal loan debt of the 400 graduating students, and, the university announced, will also cover Federal Parent PLUS Loans — a government loan given to a student’s parents or legal guardian to help them pay for their children’s education.
Smith — the 56-year-old founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners — is not only releasing the students from the debt they accumulated while striving for higher education, but the debt their family took on to help them during their pursuit, too.
“This liberation gift from Robert Smith — the first of its kind to be announced at a graduation in higher education — will be life-changing for our new Morehouse Men and their families,” Morehouse College President David A. Thomas said in the statement.
“It is our hope that our graduates will use their newfound financial freedom to pursue their career goals, to lead and serve the community,” Thomas continued, “and to remember the spirit of the gift given to them by paying it forward to support the education of future classes of Morehouse Men.”
Smith — who is worth $6 billion, according to Forbes — announced his intention to pay off the students’ educational debt while giving the commencement speech at Morehouse in May.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” he said, before revealing the grant to cheers and a standing ovation from students and faculty alike.
“This is my class,” Smith said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.”
The surprise announcement sent shockwaves throughout the community, and celebrities like Jamie Foxx praised Smith for his generosity.
“To know this man is to love him,” Foxx said on Instagram after hearing the news. “The love for people is immeasurable!!! He is lifting us up every day!!! God bless you Robert Smith.”
According to Forbes, student loan debt across the country stands at $1.5 trillion and rising, with 44 million people contributing to that amount.
“Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you get educated,” Smith wrote on Instagram after the May commencement ceremony.
“Where you go to school shouldn’t determine whether you get textbooks,” he continued. “The opportunity you access should be determined by the fierceness of your intellect, the courage in your creativity and the grit that allows you to overcome expectations that weren’t set high enough.”