May 20, 2019

Morehouse College president talks Robert Smith's student debt gift

Photo: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

As Vista Equity Partners founder Robert Smith began his commencement address yesterday morning at Morehouse College in Atlanta, school president David Thomas was simply expecting to hear inspirational words, allowing "students to look to the stage and project themselves into the future." And then Smith announced that he would pay off all of their student loans.

Why it matters: As Thomas told me over the phone last night, "Robert ... sent a message that those of us with wealth in the African-American community who value institutions that distinctively serve the African-American community need to support those institutions."

Details: Smith's grant will be disbursed through Morehouse, which is now working to figure out how exactly to go about it.

  • The school's low-end estimate is that it will be worth a total of $10 million, while its upper end is $40 million.

More from Thomas:

"The way I think about Robert's gift is that it rewards those individuals who were committed to getting the best education they could at the best college they could attend, and who invested in themselves by taking on student debt. Our students are like individuals anywhere: There are probably other financial challenges they face not captured in this gift. But what he's essentially done is made these students free to make choices to follow their passions."

The big picture: Texas-based Smith is widely rumored to have political aspirations, although for now he's committed to an $11.4 billion fund Vista raised just last year.

  • In the meantime, Smith's Morehouse announcement officially changed his mass media descriptor from "private equity investor" to "philanthropist," and it put a further spotlight on America's student debt crisis.

Go deeper: How student debt causes lower incomes

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to less than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 5,401,701 — Total deaths: 345,060 — Total recoveries — 2,149,407Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,643,238 — Total deaths: 97,720 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

President Trump doubled down on his push to reopen schools, tweeting late Sunday: "Schools in our country should be opened ASAP."

Zoom in: Trump pushed back on NIAD Director Anthony Fauci cautioning against the move earlier this month, calling his concerns "not an acceptable answer."