Student Freedom Initiative

Logo for Student Freedom Initiative

As “a single-purpose nonprofit organization,” Student Freedom Initiative serves as a catalyst for students who attend Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to find freedom in their professional and life choices. By participating in the program, Benedict College students can possibly increase their social and economic mobility by utilizing Student Freedom Initiative’s student-centric, evidence-based, holistic, and collaborative approach.

This innovative and student-centered program aims to free students from the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt. It also serves as academic support to help students attain the skills and confidence they will need after graduation to hopefully scale the heights of their personal and professional pathways.

In addition, Benedict College and Student Freedom Initiative are collaborating to provide the kinds of support which will put scholars on the pathways to their future goals:

  • Tutoring, mentoring and other support services
  • Internships matched to student interests 
  • Targeted institutional capacity-building support
  • Student Freedom Initiative supports the mission of Benedict College, which is according to its President, Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis: “to educate and inspire its students, engage its stakeholders, and positively impact the world.”

Dr. Artis, the first woman to be appointed president since the college was founded 147-years ago by Mrs. Bathsheba Benedict, welcomes this and other programs that are, “curated to enhance student learning and to develop students’ abilities as critical thinkers.”

Students and families may also be interested in learning more about the requirements needed to apply for Student Freedom Initiative’s income-contingent funding alternative to Parent PLUS and private loan programs.

Student Freedom Agreement Eligibility

As previously stated, Student Freedom Initiative works with Benedict College to provide students with mentoring and internship opportunities, as well as tutoring. All of which are free for any student and for which all students are eligible on the basis of availability.

The Student Freedom Agreement; however, has begun at Benedict College and all participating institutions with more limited availability. Initially, the Student Freedom Agreement, a financing alternative, will only be available to juniors and seniors in STEM-focused majors, as determined by credit hour.

Benedict College administration in collaboration with Student Freedom Initiative has decided that students meeting the requirements in the following majors may apply for participation in the Student Freedom Agreement:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Mathematics (Teaching)
  • Mathematics (Applied)
  • Physics
  • Physics-Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Information Science
  • Computer Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering

Benedict College students must meet the following criteria to be eligible to receive funding under the Student Freedom Agreement.

Note: The student must meet all the following criteria immediately prior to the disbursement of funds (as determined and confirmed by student’s school):

  • Completed a FAFSA or acceptable alternative state aid application that is accepted and approved by 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 we grant an exception because 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 student’s school.

 

For additional information about Student Freedom Initiative and the Student Freedom Agreement, please contact Benedict College’s Office of Financial Aid or check Student Freedom Initiative’s website for the latest information.

How the Student Freedom Agreement Works

Qualifying junior and senior-level STEM students who meet the aforementioned eligibility criteria in the section above may apply for financial assistance through Student Freedom Initiative. Once a student enters into a Student Freedom Agreement and accepts funding, the student will enter the payment period the January 1 following graduation although your first payment will not be due until February 1. And those payments will continue for a maximum of 20 years unless terminated earlier or the payment period is adjusted. Also, the funds students pay into the program will be based on their income and will rise or fall with their earnings. Additionally, the funds Student Freedom Agreement participants send to Student Freedom Initiative are added back into the program to be utilized for future qualifying students.

The Student Freedom Agreement is intended to be a benefit to students who are seeking financial aid, but it is meant to be used only as one portion of an overall financial aid funding package. The Student Freedom Agreement is not designed to replace state aid, institutional aid, federal grants, work-study or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans.

The Student Freedom Agreement aims to cover the gaps in funding, where aid packages leave students the option to take Parent PLUS loans and/or private loans to complete their education. The Student Freedom Agreement is intended to cover the remaining costs of attendance when other sources have been maximized. It should be noted that funding under the Student Freedom Agreement is capped at $20,000 per academic year and $40,000 total at any participating institution, including Benedict College.

Students interested in the Student Freedom Agreement are encouraged to weigh their options and choose what’s best for them. Benedict College’s financial aid staff and counselors are equipped to walk students through financial aid plans. Ask questions. Make informed decisions. 

For more information about the Student Freedom Agreement and its application process, visit Student Freedom Initiative’s website. The website also contains a dedicated Frequently Asked Questions webpage for additional information. Qualifying students who are considering a Student Freedom Agreement application are encouraged to thoroughly read all documents provided by Student Freedom Initiative before and during the application and approval process.

If a student has applied for the Student Freedom Agreement and would like status updates on  his/her Student Freedom Agreement application, student should contact customer support at 833.531.1310 or support@manager.studentfreedominitiative.org . Students can also contact their Financial Aid Office with additional questions.

Learn more about the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement.

History of Student Freedom Initiative

The idea for Student Freedom Initiative came out of the process used to pay off the Morehouse College Class of 2019 student loan debts. Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, paid off those loans. In doing so, Smith began to discuss with educators and financiers a program designed to address the disproportionate burden of student loan debt borne by African American college graduates. When a Black student graduates, they typically already owe $7,400 more on average than their white peers. That amount triples in only a few years due to accrued interest. Student Freedom Initiative is designed to help alleviate that disparity.

Student Freedom Initiative was launched with funding from the Fund II Foundation, a nonprofit granting organization for which Smith is founding director and President. Smith, who is now Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, matched Fund II Foundation’s gift. Other benefactors include Cisco, Jane Street, the Walmart Foundation with a grant from The Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, and the United Negro College Fund. The program is also partnering with Business Roundtable companies through the Business Roundtable Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education.

Additionally, Cisco and AVC Technologies are assisting HBCUs participating in Student Freedom Initiative with necessary technology infrastructure upgrades to achieve campus cyber security protocols required by the Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) program.

With the initial funding in place, Student Freedom Initiative has begun to accept student applications. As the students who enter into a Student Freedom Agreement graduate, the program will become self-sustaining. Graduates will be “paying it forward” for the next round of students as they make their income-contingent payments.

Acknowledging that many minority students may be first-generation college attendees, the holistic student-centered program also includes academic supports, internship opportunities, and mentoring students may need as they prepare to enter the workforce.

Guided by financial experts and the presidents of partnering institutions, Smith’s vision has only just begun to bear fruit.

Find out more about Student Freedom Initiative and get up-to-date information on new developments by visiting Student Freedom Initiative’s website.

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