Student Freedom Initiative
Clark Atlanta University students looking for alternatives to traditional loan options and enhanced educational experience may find just that in Student Freedom Initiative. Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit organization that helps students from Minority Serving Institutions achieve their life goals and professional aspirations. The program, which is expected to launch in fall 2021, will initially focus on students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Student Freedom Initiative aims to help HBCU students escape the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt, which often plagues many African American students. What’s more, the initiative serves as a catalyst for freedom in higher education and life choices, by providing students with tools and resources that enhance their educational experiences and pave the way for better career paths. Some of these key aspects of the program include:
- An income-contingent funding alternative
- Tutoring, mentoring and other support services
- Targeted institutional capacity-building support
Eligibility for the Initiative
Student Freedom Initiative’s income-contingent funding alternative is called the Student Freedom Agreement and will initially be limited to rising juniors and seniors, as determined by credit hours, majoring in a STEM field. The Clark Atlanta University administration, in collaboration with Student Freedom Initiative, has approved the following majors for participation in the program:
- Computer and Information Systems
- Dual Degree Engineer and Computer Science
- Computer Science
- Dual Degree Biology
- Dual Degree Engineering and Math
- Dual Degree Engineering and Chemistry
- Industrial Chemistry
- Dual Degree Engineering and Physics
To be eligible to receive funding under a Student Freedom Agreement, a student must meet the following other application criteria:
- Have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) or a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- School-approved Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (or acceptable state alternative)
- Enrolled full-time at a participating four-year college or university*
- Rising junior or senior (by credit hours)
- Majoring in an approved science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree-seeking program
- Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) toward completion of the eligible degree program, as defined by the student’s school for financial aid purposes.
*Exception available if less than full-time coursework is required for degree completion in final year.
While the financial assistance will only be available to certain STEM students at Clark Atlanta University, select features of the income-contingent funding alternative program will be available to all students regardless of major and class. These features would include support services like internships, mentoring and tutoring.
How the Student Freedom Agreement Works
Students that meet the criteria outlined in Student Freedom Initiative can apply to have a portion of their college education funded by the program beginning with the fall 2021 semester. Once committed to the program, students will be entered into a Student Freedom Agreement and pledge to pay back into the program once they graduate college.
Graduates who benefited from the program while in college will make fixed-payments for a certain period, with the payments based on income. Payment amounts may rise and fall throughout the payment period, as they are income-contingent, and participants will only be asked to make monthly payments for a maximum of 20 years. All payments made by the graduated HBCU students will be recycled back into the program to benefit thousands of future students, supporting the next generation.
There are some protections for participants of the program. Participants may forfeit making payments if they file bankruptcy or total, permanent disability. They may also defer up to 12 monthly payments for any reason.
The Student Freedom Agreement should not be considered the only financing option for an HBCU student. Instead, the agreement should be factored in as a portion of a student’s total financial aid package. It will not replace state or institutional aid, any federal grants, work-study funds or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Instead, it is designed to cover the remaining costs of attendance after the aforementioned options are exhausted, acting as an alternative to Parent PLUS loans and high-interest private student loans.
While the program offers many benefits for qualifying students at Clark Atlanta University, it might not be the best alternative funding option for every student. With this in mind, students should work with their financial aid counselors to better understand the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement and all loan options. From there, students can make informed decisions that best meet their interests.
To learn more about the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement and the application process, please visit Student Freedom Initiative’s website. When applying for the Student Freedom Agreement, students should carefully read all documents concerning Student Freedom Initiative, as the documents will contain the detailed terms of the Student Freedom Agreement.
The History of Student Freedom Initiative
While speaking at a fellow HBCU, Morehouse College, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith, mustered up the vision for Student Freedom Initiative.
Following the commencement speech at Morehouse College and subsequent gift to the 2019 graduating class, Smith challenged a team of individuals to develop a solution that would address the student debt of those attending HBCUs like-minded universities. This program, Smith desired, would offer holistic student support services, as well as be a lasting program based on a “Pay It Forward” paradigm, of which graduating students would provide funding for future generations of students. As the money paid back to the program would benefit future generations, investors would not be able to profit from those least able to afford it.
With the assistance of Clark Atlanta University President Dr. George T. French Jr. and the other presidents from a number of HBCUs, Smith’s team met the challenge. Student Freedom Initiative was born. However, the program would not have gotten off the ground without the help of financial partners. These partners include:
- The Education Finance Institute
- The Fund II Foundation with InternX
- The Jain Family Institute
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
- Vista Equity Partners
In addition to these institutions, Smith personally pledged $50 million to Student Freedom Initiative. His gift matched the initial donation from the Fund II Foundation, of which he is founding director and President. Both $50 million donations are intended to support 500 STEM juniors and seniors per year, every year, for the entire future of the program.
Learn more about Student Freedom Initiative.