Student Freedom Initiative
The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with an initial emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
This innovative and student-centered program aims to free students from the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt, while also serving as a catalyst to help students attain the skills and confidence they will need after graduation to navigate their personal and professional pathways.
To date, Student Freedom Initiative has received generous contributions from Robert F. Smith, Fund 2 Foundation, Cisco, Jane Street, Prudential, and the Walmart Foundation. The program has also been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education. Their ability to provide support to MSI students is based on the continued financial support of these donors and others interested in supporting their mission.
The Student Freedom Initiative operates with four key components:
- Income-contingent funding alternative for rising juniors and seniors in STEM majors via the Student Freedom Agreement – see next paragraph for more program details.
- Student support resources, such as tutoring and mentoring
- Targeted institutional capacity-building support
These components are essential to providing the support students need to develop into capable and well-rounded professional men and women.
The Student Freedom Initiative was conceived by Robert F. Smith while speaking at the commencement of Morehouse College in 2019, another HBCU. The graduating class received a gift and a challenge from Smith- Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Vista Equity Partners. The challenge? To develop a solution to the disproportionate effect of student debt on those attending HBCUs across the country. His vision was based on a “Pay It Forward” paradigm, where graduating students continue the giving spirit and provide support for future generations. This means that the money paid back into the program goes to help more students rather than become profit for investors.
With the help of Dr. David A. Thomas and presidents of multiple HBCUs, and in partnership with organizations and experts that shared the same vision, the students met the proposed challenge. The Student Freedom Initiative was born with the hope that those who need it most will receive the support necessary to complete their degree and develop a rounded and holistic experience in the process.
The partners that helped develop this program are:
- Education Finance Institute
- Fund II Foundation(InternX)
- Jain Family Institute
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
- Vista Equity Partners
Smith pledged $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative, following his initial gift to the 2019 class of Morehouse College. This contribution is intended to support 500 STEM juniors and seniors per year, every year, for the future of the program.
Who Is Eligible for the Student Freedom Agreement?
- Forensic Science
- Computer Science
In addition, students must also:
- Complete a FAFSA or acceptable alternative state aid application that is accepted and approved by Albany State University
- A valid Social Security Number
- Not an international student or foreign exchange student authorized to enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa
- Junior or senior for the school year being funded, as defined by credit hours
- Enroll full-time for the coming academic term (exceptions can be made for students who do not need full-time enrollment to complete their degree)
- Meet satisfactory academic progress as defined by Albany State University