A billionaire commencement speaker at Georgia’s Morehouse college announced he would be paying off the graduating class’s student loans.
Robert F. Smith, a technology investor and philanthropist who’s CEO and chairman of Vista Equity Partners, told the 400-member Class of 2019 in his Sunday speech at the all-male historically black college that he would be creating a grant to wipe the graduates’ student debt.
“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” Smith, who is currently ranked as the 355th richest person in the world by Forbes, said to the graduating seniors. “You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity.”
Georgia’s 11Alive News reported a Morehouse official said the gift was worth about $40 million.
Smith also pledged $1.5 million to the school and received an honorary degree from the college during Sunday’s ceremony.
“This is my class,” he said in his speech. “I know my class will pay this forward.”
Smith, whose fortune has been estimated at $2.5 billion, was relatively unknown before making headlines as the second-largest private donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. His gift of $20 million was beaten only by Oprah Winfrey’s of $21 million.
Student loan debt reached its highest level in history in 2019, totaling about $1.5 trillion among 44 million borrowers in the US.
The national default rate on student loans is about 11 percent, and Georgia’s falls just above that average. Department of Education statistics said in 2018 that 16,538 student loan borrowers are in default in Georgia.