Seniors at Morehouse College in Atlanta were “stunned” on Sunday after billionaire Robert F. Smith said that he was lifting a massive burden off the graduating class during his commencement speech.
The 56-year-old investor said that he is paying off the student loan debt of the college’s class of 2019 — the gift is said to total around $40 million — and social media was set ablaze with a range of reactions.
While the 396 students are unsurprisingly grateful, reactions online from other college graduates range from rage to jealousy.
Most say they’re happy for the class of debt-free young men, however, many say they’re envious, hoping that other billionaires follow Smith’s lead.
Who is Robert F. Smith? More about the billionaire behind the Morehouse graduation gift
Student loans: You can pay with a credit card, but should you?
“Yes I’m currently jealous of all Morehouse graduates,” writes Twitter user @Libra_chica25.
“I’m jealous of Morehouse graduates. My commencement speaker only sang to us,” writes Twitter user @_Jeanty_.
Twitter user @Heymamore asks: “Can a billionaire pledge to pay off my student loan debt? I’m glad for the graduating class, but also envious.”
Smith’s philanthropic efforts shed light on the nation’s massive student loan debt which has more than doubled over the past 10 years.
“I think the fact that ONE graduating class from ONE college having that much debt is ridiculous,” writes Twitter user @WTipperThomas.
Twitter user @Trap_Jesus writes, “While I’m glad that Robert Smith will be paying for the education of the Morehouse graduating class, the fact that roughly 400 students ran up $40 million in student loan debt…is that NOT a problem to people? That education cost THAT much?!”
The nation’s total debt accrued by students currently stands somewhere around $1.5 trillion, according to Forbes, and borrowers in the class of 2017 on average owed more than $28,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
There are a few federal programs that step-in and forgive student loans, however only a small percentage of students qualify. The loan forgiveness programs are for those who work in public service or those who suffer from disabilities, among other relatively uncommon circumstances compared with the number of U.S. college graduates.
Full-time tuition at Morehouse costs around $25,000 for 2018-2019. Other expenses, which include room and board, books and fees, bring the total cost of attendance above $48,000.
Morehouse says over 90% of its students receive a combination of scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study.
Jerron Taylor, a 22-year-old recent Morehouse grad, says that he would owe around $200,000 if it weren’t for Smith’s pledge.
The billionaire’s promise, “enables me to pay it forward.” Taylor said. “Starting in July, I’ll be a teacher. And since I won’t owe, I’ll be able to help future Morehouse students who have financial issues so they can feel the same blessings as I did.”
The keynote speaker’s announcement comes at a time when politicians are increasingly calling for solutions to the nation’s student debt problem.
Eliminating student loan debt and making public colleges tuition free is a the center of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign. And Sen. Bernie Sanders has been a very vocal supporter of free college and other financial benefits for students.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Smith’s vow to cover the student loans “could be the start of what’s known in Econ as a ‘natural experiment.'”
“Follow these students & compare their life choices w their peers over the next 10-15 years,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.