A gift to Morehouse College graduates was remarkable, but many needy students don’t graduate (opinion)

Jul 17, 2019 by

Robert F. Smith’s generous gift to Morehouse College graduates was certainly important and groundbreaking, but many deserving students don’t even make it to graduation, writes Elwood L. Robinson.

In May, billionaire Robert F. Smith made a remarkable announcement. At the Morehouse College commencement, he proclaimed that he and his family would be paying off the student loans of all 396 members of the Class of 2019. The crowd erupted in cheers — and rightfully so. The total gift, estimated to exceed $40 million, will allow graduates to begin their careers without student loan payments weighing them down. Some Morehouse graduates are reported to be as much as $100,000 in debt, which would take more than $750 a month in loan payments from their pockets for the next 20 years.

This gift was groundbreaking for Morehouse and other historically black colleges and universities. Most HBCUs, like other access institutions in this country, educate large numbers of lower-income and first-generation students but obtain just a fraction of the financial support that wealthy institutions do. In 2017, HBCUs received just two of the 462 gifts to colleges and universities that exceeded $1 million, according to Inside Philanthropy. Put another way, although HBCUs make up 3 percent of public and nonprofit higher education institutions receiving financial aid in the country, we received just 0.4 percent of the over $1 million gifts donated in 2017.

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