How This Historic Black College Is Working To Eliminate Student Debt

Kaley LaQuea

Robert F. Smith shocked Morehouse College graduates during his commencement speech in May with his pledge to pay for the student loans of the 2019 graduating class. Morehouse College is now trying to ensure future graduating classes can also get financial help.

Smith, the richest black man in America, encouraged interest from Morehouse alumni to also donate to offset students’ loan debt. Earlier in August, the historic black men’s college announced the Student Success Program, which will allow donors to direct gifts to an entire class or to students pursuing low-paying jobs in service fields like teaching.

Image: Ja_inter/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images

An American Council on Education report examining education attainment over the last 20 years found that black graduates tend to leave school with more debt and earn 15% less than their non-black peers. Black graduates also experience an unemployment rate two-thirds higher than typical bachelor’s degree holders of the same age group, a factor that contributes to growing wealth gaps. The report also found that between 2007 and 2016, mean wealth for white families rose by 15% but declined by 11% for black and Hispanic families.

Harvard Nieman Fellow Issac Bailey praised Smith’s contribution in an editorial, noting the contrast “as the federal government and student loan creditors have found a thousand different ways to undermine even seemingly well-intentioned programs.” But he also observed that “a lone billionaire — or a gaggle of billionaires — will never be enough to solve our growing student loan debt crisis.”

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have introduced bills to curb growing student loan debt, which is currently $1.6 trillion according to a recent Levy Economics Institute study. Canceling student debt would be an economic boon in reducing unemployment, creating jobs, and significantly growing GDP — up to $108 billion per year, according to the same Levy research.

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