Education reform is not only about eliminating inequity, it’s about building an infrastructure for opportunity. Smith experienced desegregation in the Denver school system and saw the resistance to change first hand. But what he remembers most is the excitement of new classroom challenges. He counts himself lucky to have a family and a community that supported his ambitions. And his aptitude for learning took him far from his former classmates who did not get on the bus to a desegregated school stacked with resources. Smith wants to make sure that all students have access to an equal education.
Smith’s plans for education reform are based on creating support and opportunity for students to challenge themselves to achieve excellence and uplift themselves and their communities. This is the foundational premise for internXL, Student Freedom Initiative, Goalsetter and the numerous scholarships Smith has funded at his alma maters Cornell and Columbia.
One of the main ideas to come out of Smith’s search for solutions in the area of education reform is eliminating student and family debt. The lives of Black families are negatively impacted for generations due to a lack of generational wealth. For college graduates, student loans can keep them from the career paths they have earned as high achieving students. Smith has set in motion a means to give more families a chance to participate fully in the rich opportunities the U.S. can provide.
“By addressing the financial stress of college and providing students with resources and community, we can finally broaden the talent pipeline and create a more diverse and thriving economy.”
-Robert F. Smith
Liberation with Student Freedom Initiative
In the wake of the Morehouse gift and in response to the growing negative impact of student loan debt on college graduates — particularly graduates of color — Smith helped form Student Freedom Initiative.
The nonprofit program is currently available to eligible students at a growing number of HBCUs and provides income-based funding alternatives to supplement traditional high interest financial aid packages. It also offers students tools for enhancing success in the classroom, such as tutoring and mentoring.
Alma Maters and Neighborhood Schools
In addition to the Morehouse gift and Student Freedom Initiative, Smith has worked with a number of organizations and institutions to help change the educational landscape, including:
This foundation supports male students in grades 6 through 12 with college-preparatory schools that are located in at-risk communities in and around New York City. Smith and Fund II Foundation have made multiple donations including Smith’s investment in the financial literacy app Goalsetter along with a donation of Vista Equity Partners stock to students, faculty and staff at Eagle.
Columbia Business School
As a graduate from the Columbia Business School, Smith made a donation in 2017 of $15 million that allowed the school to secure necessary funding to obtain two new state-of-the-art buildings. Smith is also a member of the school’s board.
Smith also notes that to have meaningful systemic change in education, students, teachers and administrators alike must be supported.
Equity in Education
Giving back to educational institutions and causes helps provide students and educators with the resources they need. Providing help to these educational initiatives helps facilitate the learning of our younger generations and set them up for success in the future. Smith has made contributions to the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the United Negro College Fund and other programs working to help ease the burden of student loan debt for students at HBCUs. Additionally, Student Freedom Initiative liberates and inspires college students to make their best career and life decisions.
“The ability to identify problems and enjoy finding their solutions begins in the classroom, yet our teachers and administrators continue to face uphill battles in securing the proper resources and materials to engage students, particularly Black students and students from low-income households.”
-Robert F. Smith