Billionaire, restaurateur ‘pay[s] it forward,’ donates to Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University students

1 min read

Atlanta University Center students and recent alumni carry lighter financial loads thanks to the philanthropic efforts of billionaire Robert F. Smith, and food and beverage entrepreneurs, Pinky Cole and Stacey Lee.

During the May commencement at Morehouse College, Smith made history when he pledged to gift graduates by paying off their loans. In a historical move, Smith,  the founder, chairman & CEO of Vista Equity Partners, extended his generosity by announcing in September to pay off loans of their parents.

Robert K. Smith

“It is our hope that our graduates will use their newfound financial freedom to pursue their career goals, to lead and serve the community, and to remember the spirit of the gift given to them by paying it forward to support the education of future classes of Morehouse Men,” said David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College.

| Read: Billionaire’s gift wipes out Morehouse graduates’ student loan debt, points to a bubbling financial crisis for the college experience |

Smith’s donation, $34 million, seeds the Morehouse Student Success Program, a scholarship and debt-reduction initiative that researches educational programs and financial strategies to curb student debt.

On the other side of the AUC squad, Strictly Vegan founder and proprietor, Pinky Cole and local bar owner, Stacey Lee, paid off tuition fees for 30 Clark Atlanta University seniors. Both, former students, Lee and Cole wanted to help seniors struggling to satisfy balances so that they could move toward graduation. 

Slutty Vegan owner, Pinky Cole. Courtesy of Slutty Vegan

What sparked Cole and Lee’s generous act was Cole coming across a GoFundMe account of a student attempting to raise to $8 thousand to finish school.

“This is a charge to other entrepreneurs to pay it forward,” she said. “If people poured into you, it is your duty to pay it back,” said Cole to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

| Read: Student loan debt bubble will pop sooner than later |

The average student at Clark Atlanta leaves with $30,200 after four years. On average, 88.0% of incoming students take out a loan to help cover the cost of first-year expenses. Averaging $7,831 per student, this does not include the loans taken by parents to pay tuition and other college fees.

In the US, student loan debt cripples US students, and disproportionately African Americans default.

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