Black Billionare Robert F. Smith Helps Level The Playing Field For Morehouse Grads by Calvin Eaton

The graduating class of 2019 is in full swing for students across the nation and this past weekend Morehouse grads got a gift that made their ceremony just a little bit sweeter. Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, gave the ultimate graduation gift to every member of the Morehouse College Class of 2019: Smith said he will pay off each graduate’s student loan debt – in full.

“Smith will pay off each graduate’s student loan debt – in full”

This is obviously a huge win for Morehouse grads and clearly life-giving given the current state of student loan debt that has quite literally become a national crisis for America. But this gift from a black billionaire means so much more for these black men and is the ultimate show both figuratively and literally of leveling the playing field for black men who despite their prestigious degree and knowledge are being ushered into a world where the playing field is stacked up against them. Let me show you why.

Students in Debt

Among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. Meanwhile, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in federal Parent PLUS loans.

  • $1.56 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt
  • 44.7 million Americans with student loan debt
  • 11.5% of student loans are 90 days or more delinquent or are in default
  • Average monthly student loan payment (among those not in deferment): $393
  • Median monthly student loan payment (among those not in deferment): $222
When we drill down deeper, this student loan debt weighs more heavily on students of color than on their white counterparts:
  • An estimated 86.8% of black students borrow federal student loans to attend a four-year public college, as opposed to 59.9% of white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
  • An estimated 77.7% of black students borrow federal student loans to pay for a higher education.
  • This figure is significantly higher than the national average for all students (60%) and for white students (57.5%).
  • When the NCES looked at rates of student loan borrowing by race and ethnicity, it uncovered an undeniable fact: Overall, black students are more likely to take on debt to earn a higher education. This is true at public and private, two-year and four-year, and for-profit and nonprofit schools.
  • The disparity is greatest at public four-year colleges, where black students borrow at a rate of 86.8%. Across all types of colleges, black students borrow at a rate of 77.7%, a figure significantly higher than the overall average of 60%.
  • See graph
The Disparity Is Clear

I could go on. But the statistics are clear: black and Hispanic students have more student loan debt than their white counterparts and African Americans are disproportionately burdened with student loans. They are a population that struggles more than others because of the racial wealth gap, labor force discrimination, having less resources and more. This gift from black billionaire Robert F. Smith quite literally shakes the table and changes outcomes not just for these black students but for generations. Any thing that anyone can do to level the playing field for black students in general should be done. We celebrate Robert and his family for paying it forward in a way that changes lives for these black students in a way that words can’t quite articulate.

“Anything that anyone can do to level the playing field for black students in general should be done”

Want to learn more about how being born black makes life unequivocally more challenging?

About Morehouse College

Morehouse College is a private, all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia. The college is one of the few remaining traditional men’s liberal arts colleges in the United States.

About Robert F. Smith

Robert F. Smith is the richest black man in America, who founded  Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on buying and selling software firms.Vista has about $46 billion in assets under management, according to Forbes. The company is privately held and does not publicly report its results, but it is believed to be one of the best-performing firms in the country, with annualized returns of more than 20 percent since its founding.

  1. African-Americans With College Degrees Are Twice As Likely to Be Unemployed as Other Graduates, The Atlantic
  2. A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2019, StudentLoanHero
  3. Study: Student Loans Weigh the Heaviest on Black and Hispanic Students
  4. Infogram
  5. This Billionaire Just Pledged To Pay Off Everyone’s Student Loan Debt In The Morehouse Class of 2019, Forbes

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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