Student Freedom Initiative
Student Freedom Initiative is a student-centered, evidence-based and holistic tax-exempt nonprofit organization offering students from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) freedom in professional life choices through an alternative income-contingent funding option via the Student Freedom Agreement and other tools and resources intended to enhance the higher education experience and broaden student outlooks for career paths. The ultimate goal of Student Freedom Initiative is to act as a catalyst to help students attain the skills and confidence they will need after graduation to successfully choose their personal and professional pathways. Initially at a select few Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Tougaloo College, Student Freedom Initiative will offer the following key components:
An income-contingent funding alternative to eligible students
- Academic tutoring
- Paid internships with industry partners
- Targeted institutional capacity-building support
Who Is Eligible to Participate in the Student Freedom Agreement?
All Tougaloo College students will have access to the educational and career support resources, including internships, tutoring and mentoring, as well as capacity-building support, provided by Student Freedom Initiative. However, Student Freedom Initiative’s income-contingent funding alternative, called the Student Freedom Agreement, will initially be limited to certain STEM majors.
The Tougaloo College administration, in collaboration with Student Freedom Initiative, has approved the following majors for participation in the Student Freedom Agreement:
- Computer Science
To be eligible to apply for funding, students attending Tougaloo College must have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) and meet all of the following criteria immediately prior to a disbursement (as determined and confirmed by Tougaloo College):
- School approved FAFSA or acceptable alternative state aid application;
- Rising junior or senior (by credit hours);
- Enrolled full-time for the coming academic term (unless Student Freedom Initiative grants an exception because you require less than full-time enrollment to complete your bachelor’s degree in your final year of study);
- Majoring in approved Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degree-seeking program; and
- Meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), as defined by your institution
Please note that students are ineligible if they are in the United States with a non-immigrant visa. All students can refer to Student Freedom Initiative’s website for the latest information.
How Does the Student Freedom Agreement Work?
Eligible Tougaloo College STEM students can apply for funding through the Student Freedom Agreement for the 2021 fall semester. Graduates who benefited from the program while in college will make income-contingent payments for a certain period. The amount of the payments will vary depending on the participant’s earnings and may rise and fall throughout the payment period. Students will only be required to make payments for a maximum of 20 years, even if they have not paid the amount borrowed, and they can elect to defer up to 12 monthly payments at any given time for any reason. All payments made will be recycled back into Student Freedom Initiative, and the funds will be used to finance the Student Freedom Agreements of future students.
While the Student Freedom Agreement can be factored in as a portion of a student’s total financial aid package, it is not designed to replace any state or institutional aid, any federal grants, work-study or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Instead, it is designed to cover up to $20,000 per academic year of the remaining educational expenses after the aforementioned aid sources are taken into account. Furthermore, the Student Freedom Agreement is considered to be a student-centric alternative to Parent PLUS loans and high-interest private student loans, and as with Parent PLUS loans and most private student loans, the total amount of funding received cannot exceed the total cost of attendance. Most importantly, the availability of a Student Freedom Agreement will not impact a student’s eligibility for any institutional aid, such as need-based or academic grants and scholarships from Tougaloo College.
Students at Tougaloo College who are eligible for a Student Freedom Agreement are likely to benefit from the income-contingent funding alternative. However, Student Freedom Agreement may not be the best option for every student. With this in mind, students are encouraged to work with their financial aid counselor to understand the features of the Student Freedom Agreement, traditional loan options as well as any other funding options.
To learn more about the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement and the application process, please visit Student Freedom Initiative’s website. Interested students should carefully read all the documents provided by Student Freedom Initiative during the application and approval process. They will contain important information related to the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement.
What Is the History Behind Student Freedom Initiative?
Student Freedom Initiative was created to address the disproportionate student loan debt plaguing African American students and students of other minority backgrounds. It was envisioned by Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, after his commencement address at Morehouse College in 2019, committing to pay off the student debt of the graduating class.
After the graduation ceremony, Smith challenged a team of extraordinary individuals to develop a program that could serve more than just Morehouse students but rather students of numerous college institutions. The program would be based on a “Pay It Forward” paradigm, in which participants would be able to help finance the education of the next generation of students. While funds would be provided to the initial students, the payments received by the participants would support future students, instead of allowing investors to profit from those least able to afford it. Ideally, Smith hoped the program would also be able to include holistic student support services, going beyond merely alleviating the financial burdens on these students.
The team met the challenge, and Student Freedom Initiative was born. Partners in the development and initial implementation of Student Freedom Initiative program include the following:
- Education Finance Institute
- Fund II Foundation with InternX
- Jain Family Institute
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
- Vista Equity Partners
Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit public charity and has raised a significant amount of funding to support its efforts. Its initial funding includes a $50 million gift from Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and President, as well as a $50 million personal gift from Robert F. Smith himself. The gifts are intended to allow Student Freedom Initiative to support 500 STEM juniors and seniors per year for the entire future of the program.
Learn more about Student Freedom Initiative.
- United Negro College Fund (UNCF)