Billionaire Robert F. Smith Donates $50 Million To Assist STEM Students at HBCUs


October 24, 2020

He just keeps paying it forward!

Robert F. Smith just donated $50 million to support STEM students at historically Black colleges and universities, Yahoo! Finance reports.

The Student Freedom Initiative announced a $50 million personal gift from billionaire philanthropist, founder and Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith. The $50 million funding matches the initial $50 million given to the organization by the Fund II Foundation in June 2020. 


The Initiative is a public charity dedicated to ensuring freedom in career and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an emphasis on junior and seniors earning STEM degrees at HBCUs. The fund offers student and family centered income-contingent payment alternatives to educational costs as well as internships, tutoring/mentoring, and targeting HBCU capacity building for students. 

Smith founded the Initiative and sits on the board alongside United Negro College Fund CEO Michael Lomax, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, Fund II Foundation CEO Linda Wilson, Bob Jain, Founder and Chairman of the Jain Family Institute and Co-Chief Investment Officer at Millennium Management, Education Finance Institute Co-founder and Executive Director Jim Runcie, and Keith B. Shoates, Executive Director of Student Freedom Initiative. 

According to the Student Freedom Initiative, 65% of Black wealth is swallowed by the burden of student debt. Following Smith’s historic gift to the 2019 class of Morehouse and their parents, he and his team decided to create a more sustainable infrastructure to help unburden students and their families and create “onramps to jobs of the 21st century.”


“Each year, thousands of Black graduates from HBCUs across America enter the workforce with a crushing debt burden that stunts future decisions and prevents opportunities and choices. A college education should empower and prepare our next generation for a limitless future. The Student Freedom Initiative is a culmination of work that followed my gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019. The $1.6 trillion student debt crisis in our country is a human rights crisis,” Smith said.

“This is the only structure that we know of that has been built for HBCUs to support students at scale and that does not depend on the endowment of a university or funding by for-profit funders. Robert F. Smith’s extraordinary philanthropy is a giant first step toward a self-sustaining pool of funds that we can invest in promising students, particularly those pursuing STEM careers,” Lomax added. 

The Initiative will start with 11 HBCUs that will be announced before the end of November, with the intention of opening up services “to all qualifying STEM juniors and seniors at all HBCUs over the next five years, following the fall 2021 academic year.”


Smith spoke about the importance of other philanthropists joining the cause, saying, “The Initiative is purposefully built to redress historic economic and social inequities and to offer a sustainable, scalable platform to invest in the education of future Black leaders. I urge others to join this important cause so that together we can liberate the human spirit.”

Thank you for all the work you’re doing Mr. Smith! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of @robertfredericksmith/Instagram


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