ATLANTA - Months after a billionaire pledged to pay off student debt for Morehouse College's entire graduating class of 2019, Channel 2 Action News has learned that the billionaire has made good on his promise.
During the May commencement address, Robert F. Smith announced he would eliminate student loans for the entire 400-member graduating class as he accepted an honorary degree.
"This is my class. 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans," Smith said in the speech.
Video of Smith's announcement went viral after the class erupted into disbelieving cheers.
Channel 2's Lori Wilson was at Morehouse, where she spoke to the president about that incredible moment and what the college is doing with the money. President David Thomas said the money has had a ripple effect across the college.
"What we found, after Robert's gift, is that there were many people who expressed an interest in participating," Thomas said.
Thomas said that in that moment, the conversation was forever changed about giving and responsibility for future generations of Morehouse scholars.
On Friday, Thomas announced that Smith's gift of $34 million will be completely disbursed to student loan officers by the end of the year, but the work is just beginning.
"One of the things we'll be looking at is whether it creates a proclivity to give back sooner than may be the case," Thomas said.
Included in that multimillion-dollar gift was also money to study how not having to pay back tuition impacts decision-making.
The class of 2019 isn't the only class Smith's donation stands to benefit.
Because of the donation, Morehouse has started a student success program, which will allow donors of every level to give money to help students afford a degree from the college. The details of the program are still being worked out, but it is designed to mimic Smith's gift on a much smaller scale.
Freshman Michael Anthony Williams is well aware of the price of a college education.
"That's a financial burden that is lifted off their shoulders," Williams said. "It would be great to be in that class, and hopefully he comes back in the next four years."
"This is a generational gift, and in that regard, it's a wealth-building gift," Thomas said.
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