Robert Frederick Smith is an American chemical engineer, businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He also serves as the founder, chairman, and CEO of his private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, which focuses on financing and assisting data and technology startup businesses. In addition to being a Cornell graduate, he has proven passion for giving back in support of African American minorities, focusing on those in education at HBCUs.
In 2019 he agreed to pay off the student loan debt of the entire graduating class of Morehouse College. The following year, in 2020, he donated an additional $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative. In 2021 he added the potential to reach the youth, that aren’t in college, of the Black and LatinX communities by introducing their chance to get into the stock market with his One Stock One Future Initiative. Currently, in 2022, the billionaire announces his latest program, Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS).
Through Vista Equity Partners and the Student Freedom Initiative, Smith is partnering with Prudential Financial to launch and facilitate HELPS, which plans on collaborating through HBCUs to enable students to circumnavigate everyday life’s financial hardships better while attending and paying for college. Chairman Smith adds his supportive comments to the collaboration of Prudential Financial. “Our Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities.”
The students will be able to apply for $1.8 million worth of micro-grants and paid internships and the availability to attend financial literacy workshops. The grants are designed for students who evoke themselves being in high-risk situations or emergencies. In these cases, they are associated with being faced with circumstances that would ultimately be negatively life-altering in such a way that would hamper them financially where their situation would incrementally worsen without the urgent attention of relief. The aim is to provide a cushion of financial relief in earnest effort to allow them to stay in and finish their collegiate journey.
The micro-grants would be of use for various situations from school life to everyday life’s unexpected expenses. Mark A. Brown, the Student Freedom Initiative executive director, adds his comments on why they feel this is the right thing to do. “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.”
Brown adds, “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. These expenses left unaddressed can derail their college plans. In addition, most of these students lack the necessary financial literacy to make informed decisions, though they are asked to sign complex promissory notes that could indebt them well into their adult lives.”
Prudential Financial promises to offer a three-year pilot program with nine HBCUs and address their students’ financial obstacles, potentially presenting as a risk for their ultimate success along their academic tenure.
For more information and if you would like to support the Student Freedom Initiative you can do so by following this link. https://studentfreedominitiative.org/about/