About Student Freedom Initiative
Student Freedom Initiative® is a 501(c)3 single-purpose nonprofit organization that provides a catalyst for freedom in professional and life choices for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Initiative works to increase the students’ social and economic mobility using a student-centric, evidence-based, holistic and collaborative approach.
Student Freedom Initiative includes exclusive programming features that are open to STEM students at participating universities. The idea behind Student Freedom Initiative is to holistically support students through their academic lives and into their chosen STEM professions. Some of the components of the Initiative include:
- The Student Freedom Agreement®, an income-contingent funding alternative to Parent PLUS and other private education loans that is available to rising juniors and seniors in STEM majors identified by the participating HBCU or MSI
- Tutoring, mentoring and other services for all students and majors, such as the HELPS emergency grant program
- Paid internships and professional skill development for rising sophomores and higher with the internXL program
- Targeted institutional capacity-building to create more competitiveness at participating universities
History of Student Freedom Initiative
After providing the gift of financial freedom to the Morehouse College graduating class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, knew something had to be done to alleviate the severe effects of the student debt crisis for more students. With an
entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for providing access to equal opportunities in education, Smith used his skill set and enlisted higher education experts to help him bring Student Freedom Initiative to life.
As a devoted philanthropist, Smith wanted to change the narrative of how Black students face student loan debt. Rather than view student loans as a barrier to entry for attendance, Smith wanted to create an opportunity for success. Student Freedom Initiative is a way of addressing this grave issue while also creating a new sense of hope for the future of students pursuing STEM degrees.
Smith and Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is the founding director and President, both put forth $50 million individually to help launch Student Freedom Initiative. Now, Smith serves as Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative and continues to help advocate for underrepresented students at MSIs across the country.
What to Know About the Student Freedom Agreement
The Student Freedom Agreement serves as an alternative option to other private loans that can impact students’ post-graduate career choices. It is not intended to replace any state or institutional aid or any federal grants, work-study or direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
Rather, the Student Freedom Agreement is available to cover a student’s remaining cost of attendance after those other aid sources are considered, serving as a potential alternative to other private education loans and Parent PLUS loans.
Eligibility for the Student Freedom Agreement
A student’s school must be a participant in the income-contingent funding alternative component of Student Freedom Initiative's program, and the student must meet all the following criteria immediately prior to the disbursement of funds (as determined and confirmed by the student’s school):
- Completed a FAFSA or acceptable alternative state aid application that is accepted and approved by the student’s school;
- A valid Social Security Number;
- Not an international student or foreign exchange student authorized to enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa;
- Majority age or older;
- Junior or Senior for the school year being funded;
- Enrolled full-time for the coming academic term (unless granted an exception because the student requires less than full-time enrollment to complete his/her bachelor’s degree in her/his final year of study);
- Working towards a degree in an approved STEM major; and
- Meeting satisfactory academic progress as defined by the student’s school.
Prospective borrowers may qualify for Federal Student Aid (FSA) loans or other assistance from the FSA programs. Additionally, the terms and conditions of an FSA loan may be more favorable than the provisions of private education loans.
For additional information, contact Bennett College’s financial aid office. Bennett College does not endorse Student Freedom Initiative’s income-contingent alternative to Parent PLUS and other private education loans product. Bennett College is not affiliated with Student Freedom Initiative.
internXL is a platform that brings precision, diversity, inclusion and efficiency to the internship hiring process for top companies across the U.S. The platform provides students with an innovative internship platform for the modern workforce.
Thanks to its partnership with internXL, Student Freedom Initiative is able to offer students at participating institutions access to nationwide paid internships, independent of major, with leading Fortune 500 companies.
The internXL program is strategically designed to match students with employers that fit their interests, providing them with invaluable on-the-job learning experiences, networking opportunities with senior-level executives and transferable skills for college and future endeavors. Students who can apply include:
- Rising sophomores and above
- Students in applicable STEM programs
The Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students (HELPS) Program provides grants to eligible students to support an emergency. An emergency is defined to be an unexpected, one-time expense, associated with the immediate risk to health, life, property or student’s environment that requires urgent attention to prevent the worsening of the situation or further instability of
the student’s situation.
An eligible student:
- is a full or part-time undergraduate student,
- majoring in any area of academic study,
- attends one of the participating institutions
- must submit an online application with the justification of the emergency.
For more information regarding student support services through Student Freedom Initiative, visit the website.
Targeted Institutional Capacity Building
Capacity-building is intended to increase the resilience and competitiveness of the participating institutions. With the help of our partners, Student Freedom Initiative focuses on supporting participating institutions moving through the research continuum to R1 Research Institutions,
collaborating with the federal government and other research organizations, defining common shared services solutions and other needs specifically identified by the institutions
IT Modernization - Cybersecurity
Currently, in collaboration with our partners, Student Freedom initiative is implementing cybersecurity upgrades at HBCUs that have agreed to participate. The upgrades are based on the Department of Education guidance and grant writing support for the Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband and the Connecting Minority Communities Program (CMCPP). Learn more about the cybersecurity effort.