Austin billionaire makes good on promise, donates $34M to cover student loans

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Robert F. Smith, left, laughs with David Thomas, center, and actress Angela Bassett at Morehouse College on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Atlanta. Smith, a billionaire technology investor and philanthropist, said he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College – an estimated $40 million. Smith, this year’s commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. (Bo Emerson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin billionaire Robert F. Smith and his family on Friday donated $34 million to help pay off student and parent loans for the Morehouse College class of 2019.

Smith made headlines across the country back in May when he announced at Morehouse’s graduation that he planned to help their graduating class start their careers without any college debt.

The college said Smith donated the money to its new Morehouse College Student Success Program, which “is a scholarship, loan debt, research and educational initiative established by the Board of Trustees as a national investment strategy to curb student loan debt and help graduates to prosper faster,” according to a release. More than 400 students, parents and guardians who took out any of six different types of loans will benefit, the school said.

“With the Student Success Program in place, there is a model for all colleges and universities, starting with Morehouse and HBCUs, to receive gifts from alumni and other supporters that can offset the burden of student loans and give students the freedom to pursue their dreams, the capital to invest in the economic growth of their families and the time that they can give back meaningfully to strengthening their communities,” Smith said in a statement.

There are about 44 million people who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the United States, according to Forbes. Student Loan Hero reports the average student loan debt for the class of 2018 — the latest numbers available — was $29,800. Morehouse said its students who take out loans graduate with between $35,000 and $40,000 in debt.

“It is our hope that our graduates will use their newfound financial freedom to pursue their career goals, to lead and serve the community, and to remember the spirit of the gift given to them by paying it forward to support the education of future classes of Morehouse Men,” Morehouse College President David A. Thomas said.

Smith is the founder as well as chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners.

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