Billionaire Robert F. Smith made headlines earlier this summer when he announced that, along with a $1.5 million class gift to Morehouse College, he would be covering the costs of the graduating class’ student debt. Paying off the student loans of approximately 400 students graduating from the historically black college (HBCU) located in Atlanta was estimated to cost the CEO of Vista Equity Partners tens of millions of dollars. On Friday,Time magazine reported that the bill for Robert F. Smith’s philanthropic gesture will actually be $34 million.
However, that $34 million price tag comes with more good news, as Smith announced that his pledge to pay off the class of 2019’s debt now included educational debt accrued by the students’ parents. The Washington Post noted that while student debt is a widespread problem, it disproportionately affects students of color, especially at HBCUs like Morehouse, where about 80% of students borrow to fund their education, compared to 55% of their peers at predominantly white institutions.
It’s such good news for these students and their families. Mr. Smith has done an honorable thing that impacts generations to come. It’s long past time to make colleges affordable, if not free, so that we don’t live in a society where winning the lottery (or being a billionaire’s beneficiary) is the only way people can tackle their student debt.