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


February 21, 2022

He’s back at it again!

Billionaire Robert F. Smith just announced $1.8 million in microgrants for HBCU students, Essence reports.

Smith has been working overtime to ensure he does all he can to help create generational wealth for students of color. In 2019, he paid off the student loan debt for the entire graduating class of Morehouse College, eventually extending that debt payoff to the students’ parents as well. Then in 2020, Smith donated $50 million to his Student Freedom Initiative to support STEM students. The organization is a public charity dedicated to ensuring freedom in career and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions. 


But he didn’t stop there, year by year finding new ways to create even more access and opportunities for students in need. In 2021, Smith launched the “One Stock. One Future” initiative, aimed at creating 1 million Black and Latinx youth shareholders and investors. He then gifted students, staff, and faculty members from NY/New Jersey’s Eagle Academy college prep network with a total of 15,000 shares of stock, naming the 2019 Morehouse grads whose debt he paid off as partners in the gift. Now, Smith has announced another generous endeavor, launching a $1.8 million grant program geared towards HBCU students. 

Smith’s Student Freedom Initiative has partnered with Prudential Financial to provide $1.8 million in microgrants to HBCU students through the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program. The goal of the program is to address financial need for students that may not necessarily be academic related, providing one-time funds for expenses disproportionately faced by Black students.

“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. 


Some of these challenges included home life challenges, including many students feeling personally responsible for the negative impacts of debt accrued by their parents who took out Parent PLUS loans for their education. Couple that with the lack of financial literacy and the complex promissory notes that keep students in long-term debt long into adulthood and you have a recipe for disaster. It is the goal of the HELPS Program to fill in those financial gaps so students don’t have to “choose between their education and their financial well-being.”

In addition to the microgrants, Prudential will also offer paid internships and pro bono services for HBCU students and families that help promote improved financial literacy. All of it is a part of Prudential and the Student Freedom Initiative’s commitment to closing the racial wealth gap. 

“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 serves as Chairman of the Student Freedom Initiative, spoke about the importance of the new HELPS Program, saying, “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.” 

Students can apply for the HELPS Program beginning Spring semester 2022. 

Photo Courtesy of Simon Dawson/Bloomberg


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