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

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Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.