Businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith is furthering his efforts to support students at historically Black colleges and universities through a new project. The Vista Equity Partners founder is joining forces with Prudential Financial to create grants for HBCU scholars facing financial burdens.
Through the initiative—dubbed the Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students Program—$1.8 million in microgrants will be distributed amongst college students in need. Prudential will also offer financial literacy-centered resources and paid internships for scholars and their families. The three-year pilot program—which is slated to launch this spring with nine participating HBCUs—was cultivated to address the student loan debt crisis’ disproportionate impact on scholars at historically Black institutions and close the ever-growing racial wealth gap. The HELPS program is under the umbrella of the Student Freedom Initiative; a nonprofit organization founded by Smith that has a mission rooted in increasing economic and social mobility for underserved and underrepresented students.
“Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities,” Smith said in a statement. “By enabling the launch of the HELPS Program, a vital component of our work to address the holistic needs of HBCU students and families, Prudential’s gift will provide long-needed and often overlooked aid and support persistence of those most vulnerable in our community.”
Mark A. Brown, who serves as Executive Director of the Student Freedom Initiative, emphasized the importance of the program, adding it will help “ensure that more HBCUs and eligible students will not be forced to choose between their education or their financial wellbeing if met with a hardship during the course of their studies.”
Programs like HELPS are needed. Research shows students who attend historically Black colleges and universities borrow loans at higher rates and graduate with higher debt than those who attend non-HBCUs. The HELPS program is one of many initiatives Smith has led to empower HBCU students. Last year, he launched One Stock. One Future.; a program in which corporations donated at least 1,000 shares to be distributed amongst Black and Latinx children throughout the country. It was created to eradicate socio-economic barriers standing in the way of generating wealth.