Billionaire Robert F. Smith Announces $1.8 Million Worth Microgrants For HBCU Students

According to Essence, billionaire Robert F. Smith just announced $1.8 million in microgrants for HBCU students. 

Smith has been working extra hours to guarantee that he does everything he can to help kids of color build generational wealth. In 2019, he paid off the student loan debt of Morehouse College’s entire graduating class, eventually extending the debt forgiveness to the students’ parents as well. Smith then gave $50 million to his Student Freedom Initiative in 2020 to help STEM students. The organization is a public charity dedicated to ensuring that students attending Minority Serving Institutions have the opportunity to choose their career and life paths.

But he didn’t stop there; year after year, he found fresh methods to expand access and opportunity for underserved youngsters. Smith introduced the “One Stock. One Future” program in 2021, which aims to attract 1 million Black and Latinx young investors and stockholders. He then gave 15,000 shares of stock to students, employees, and instructors from the Eagle Academy college prep network in New York and New Jersey, identifying the 2019 Morehouse grads whose debt he paid off as partners in the donation. Smith has launched yet another philanthropic initiative, this time a $1.8 million award program for HBCU students.

Through the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program, Smith’s Student Freedom Initiative has collaborated with Prudential Financial to deliver $1.8 million in microgrants to HBCU students. The program’s purpose is to help students with financial needs that aren’t necessarily academic in nature, by offering one-time funding for expenses that Black students encounter disproportionately.

“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…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,” explained Mark A. Brown, Executive Director of the Student Freedom Initiative.

Homelife issues arose, with many students feeling personally accountable for the bad consequences of debt incurred by their parents who took out Parent PLUS loans to fund their school. When you add in a lack of financial knowledge and complicated promissory notes that trap kids in long-term debt far into adulthood, you’ve got a prescription for disaster. The HELPS Program’s purpose is to close the financial gaps so that students do not have to “choose between their education and their financial well-being.” 

In addition to the microgrants, Prudential will provide HBCU students and families with paid internships and pro bono services to encourage financial literacy. All of this is part of Prudential’s and the Student Freedom Initiative’s commitment to narrowing the wealth gap between black and white students. 

“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. 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,” said Sarah Keh, VP of Inclusive Solutions at Prudential Financial.

Smith, who also serves as Chairman of the Student Freedom Initiative, said of the new HELPS Program, “Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities. 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.” 

Beginning in the Spring semester of 2022, students can apply for the HELPS Program.

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