Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith announced at his commencement speech at Morehouse College that he would pay off the student loan debt of the entire historically black college’s graduating class.
"On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we're going to put a little fuel in your bus," Smith said.
"Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward," he continued. "I want my class to look at these (alumni) -- these beautiful Morehouse brothers -- and let's make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream."
The student loan debt of the 396 graduating students is estimated at close to $40 million, NBC News reported.
Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners, is estimated to be worth $4.4 billion, according to Forbes.
AOC: Students shouldn’t have to depend on gifts
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applauded Smith’s generous donation but pointed to the massive student loan debt as a sign that higher education in America is broken.
"Every Morehouse Class of 2019 student is getting their student debt load paid off by their commencement speaker. This could be the start of what’s known in Econ as a ‘natural experiment.’ Follow these students & compare their life choices w their peers over the next 10-15 years," she wrote.
"It’s important to note that people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation to begin with (aka college should be affordable), but it is an incredible act of community investment in this system as it is," she added.
America’s student loan debt is a crisis:
Economists say 44 million borrowers have amassed $1.7 trillion in student loan debt and more than 7 million debtors are estimated to be in default on payments. In 2017, the average graduate left school with nearly $29,000 in debt.
After Smith’s commencement announcement, graduating student Aaron Mitchom told The Associated Press he had drawn up a spreadsheet showing it would take him 25 years to pay off his $200,000 student debt.
“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”