Florida A&M University (FAMU) is among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who have agreed to participate in the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), a program designed to reduce and eliminate Black student loan debt.
Other selected institutions include Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.
The Student Freedom Initiative will provide eligible students at the participating institutions with an income-contingent financing alternative to high cost, fixed payment debt obligations, along with holistic support services, including internships and mentoring. By helping students facing financial challenges to avoid unmanageable debt obligations, the Student Freedom Initiative will enable students and their families to seek higher education without sacrificing their economic security or post-college career options.
“The Student Freedom Initiative is inspired by our common goal of liberating the human spirit by removing the systemic barriers that prevent students from maximizing their opportunities in life,” said founder Robert F. Smith. “By addressing the financial stress of college and providing students with resources and community, we can finally broaden the talent pipeline and create a more diverse and thriving economy.”
Among the goals of the SFI is to eliminate the $1.5 to $2 trillion racial wealth gap. Organizers cite college education as a key contributor to income growth, but 65 percent of black wealth is consumed by college loan debt. SFI is designed to reduce and eliminate that debt burden.
“The SFI is an innovative and comprehensive approach to helping students address some of the most significant challenges faced during matriculation and post-commencement,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “With the added economic challenges students and parents face caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this alternative financing option’s timing couldn’t be better.”
With increased access to internships, tutoring, mentorship, and career support services, Robinson said “all of our students will benefit from FAMU’s participation in this unique program geared toward assisting students with persistence to graduation and securing employment and graduate and professional school opportunities afterward.”
Each participating HBCU will work with the Student Freedom Initiative to help make its products and services available for juniors and seniors majoring in STEM beginning Fall 2021. The data and experiences from the initial HBCUs will then inform future growth and expansion to serve more students and colleges and universities.
Nigel Edwards, associate vice president in the Division of Student Affairs, Administration & Assessment, said the Student Freedom Initiative is a unique two-part program that offers science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors at FAMU an income-contingent funding option via its Student Freedom Agreement. But the benefits go further.
“All enrolled students in good academic standing are eligible for opportunities that provide paid internships, academic tutoring, mentoring, and other services designed to assist students’ persistence to graduation,” Edwards said. “These additional tools and resources will broaden their higher education experience and improve student outlooks for career pathways and graduate school opportunities.”
The program will start in fall 2021. FAMU will provide additional information on the program later in the spring term.