Video of Morehouse College's graduating class being told by commencement speaker Robert F Smith that he's paying off their student loans (re @aoc tweet), which is just extremely cheering to watch - the way what's just happened spreads through them pic.twitter.com/skSyEzaSVt— Archie Bland (@archiebland) May 19, 2019
Not even Morehouse College administrators knew the announcement was coming.
Addressing the college’s class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, a man who is richer than Oprah Winfrey, made a grand gesture straight out of the television mogul’s playbook.
“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he said on Sunday morning, bringing the approximately 400 students in caps and gowns to their feet.
“This is my class,” he said.
In January, Mr. Smith, a billionaire, donated $1.5 million to the collegeto fund student scholarships and a new park on campus. He received an honorary degree at the graduation on Sunday.
The value of the new gift is unclear because of the varying amounts the students owe, but the money will be disbursed through Morehouse College and will apply to “loans students directly have for their college education,” a representative for Mr. Smith said.
Because Morehouse was not informed of Mr. Smith’s plans before the ceremony, details about how the money would be distributed were not immediately available.
A private equity titan, Mr. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000.
After making a fortune in software, he was named the nation’s richest African-American by Forbes. According to that financial magazine, Mr. Smith’s estimated net worth is $5 billion, making him richer than Ms. Winfrey, who previously held the title of the wealthiest black person.
Over the past 20 years, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges rose 58 percent, after accounting for inflation, while tuition at four-year public colleges increased even more, by over 100 percent, according to research from the College Board.
According to federal data, the average federal student loan debt is $32,000. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is up to 10 years, but most students, according to research, take far longer than that to pay off their balances.
For the students at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that costs about $48,500 per year to attend, the gift could be transformative, especially in the unsettled years after graduation.
In an interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major carrying $90,000 in student debt, said: “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”