Robert Smith (Image from Morehouse College commencement video)
The Morehouse College Class of 2019 didn’t just earn their degrees; they also got total student loan forgiveness from commencement speaker and billionaire Robert Smith. In a surprise move, Smith announced his family would pay off the student loan debt of every Morehouse student graduating that day, a sum Forbes calculates to be between $10 million and $40 million.
While this generous gift will make a huge difference in the lives of students, it’s well within budget for Smith, whose fortune — built through private equity firm Vista Equity Partners — is estimated at $5 billion. With this act of philanthropy, Smith joins a small group of wealthy individuals who have helped others avoid the burden of student loan debt.
Here’s the story on Smith and similar philanthropists who want to help solve the student loan crisis in America.
1. Billionaire Robert Smith promises to pay student loans
Smith had been planning the announcement for days, but most students, families and faculty were caught by surprise when he revealed he would pay the student loan debt of all 396 graduates at the commencement ceremony Sunday.
“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” Smith said in his speech to the all-male students at this historically black college. “We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”
Although the details of this pledge haven’t been worked out yet, Morehouse grads can go forward to pursue jobs, internships or further study without student loans weighing them down.
2. Oprah Winfrey has supported Morehouse students, too
On the same day Smith pledged to wipe away the debt for Morehouse grads, celebrity Oprah Winfrey was delivering a commencement speech at Colorado College. Famous for her charitable giving, Oprah has her own history of helping Morehouse students.
In 1989, she spoke at the Atlanta school and announced a $1 million donation to Morehouse scholarships. Since that time, she’s donated $12 million more to the scholarship fund, helping put more than 400 students through school.
3. Ken Langone helped make NYU medical school tuition-free
Home Depot founder Ken Langone is also doing his part to relieve students of education debt. As chair of the board of trustees at the NYU Langone Medical Center, Langone donated $100 million to help make NYU’s medical school tuition-free. Although NYU’s offer doesn’t cover room and board, it waives the $55,000 annual tuition fee.
Medical school is notoriously expensive. Fortunately, however — thanks to the generosity of people like Langone — there is an especially wide selection of medical scholarships, as well as student loan repayment assistance for physicians, nurses and other medical professionals.
4. Nicki Minaj paid off student loans for fans
The Twitterverse was set abuzz in May 2017 when rapper Nicki Minaj offered to pay off student loans for her fans who got straight As.
After some back-and-forth tweets (and probably some exchange of paperwork behind the scenes), Minaj ended up paying off $18,000 of her fans’ loans while bringing attention to the student debt crisis. She also announced she would be setting up a charity to help students pay for college and get rid of their debt.
5. Sidney Frank donated $100 million to Brown
The late billionaire businessman Sidney Frank also made a substantial donation to put students through school. In 2004, Frank gave $100 million to his alma mater Brown University to established the Sidney E. Frank Endowed Scholarship Fund. His gift funds the education for about 130 undergraduates every year.
While funding scholarships are still a more popular form of charity than offering to pay off student loans, the effects are similar. If you’re still in school (or haven’t yet started), hunting around for scholarships and grants is vital to keeping any student debt as low as possible.
6. Bill and Melinda Gates fund billions in scholarships
Of course, Frank isn’t the only one offering scholarships. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, for instance, have been especially generous.
Since it launched in 2000, the billions of dollars in charitable donations made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has included financial assistance for students. One of its flagship programs, the Gates Scholarship, continues to provide full-ride scholarships to high-achieving students with financial need.
In fact, many other celebrities, both past and present, have scholarship funds in their name. And while that might not be of help to those who already have student loans, it can go a long way in making sure that future graduates don’t face the same towering wall of debt that previous classes have.
Getting your student loans forgiven
If you’re not one of the lucky students who’s benefited from the philanthropy of these individuals, you might still be able to get your student loans forgiven. Programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness discharge student loans for qualifying professionals. And many student loan repayment assistance programs will help you pay off federal and private student debt.
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 10, 2020.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.16% effective August 10, 2020.