US billionaire promises to pay off student debt for entire grad class

Washington: A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at an US college in Atlanta when he announced at their commencement that he would pay off their student loans — estimated at $40 million.

Robert F. Smith, this year’s commencement speaker at Morehouse College, made the announcement on Sunday while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college, Time magazine reported.

Smith, who is black, is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” the investor and philanthropist told graduates in his morning address.

“This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

The announcement immediately drew stunned looks from faculty and students alike. Then the graduates broke into the biggest cheers of the morning. Morehouse said it is the single largest gift to the college.

In the weeks before graduating from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchom drew up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay back his $200,000 in student loans — 25 years at half his monthly salary, per his calculations.

In an instant, that number vanished. Mitchom, sitting in the crowd, wept. Eight family members, including Mitchom’s 76-year-old grandmother, took turns over four years co-signing on the loans that got him across the finish line.

Smith, who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school.

Morehouse College president David A. Thomas said the gift would have a profound effect on the students’ futures. “In some ways, it was a liberation gift for these young men that just opened up their choices.”