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An American billionaire speaking at a degree ceremony announced he would pay off the student debt of all 400 graduates – worth R580 million

Ellen Cranley , Business Insider US
 May 19, 2019, 08:43 PM
(Morehouse College Twitter)

  • Robert F. Smith, an American billionaire tech investor and philanthropist, announced in his commencement speech at Georgia's Morehouse College that he was setting up a grant to wipe the graduating class's student debt.
  • That is reportedly estimated at $40 million – R580 million – for the 400-person class.
  • For more stories see www.businessinsider.co.za.

A billionaire speaker at a degree ceremony at Georgia's Morehouse college in America announced he would be paying off the entire graduating class's student loans.

Robert F. Smith, a technology investor and philanthropist who's CEO and chairman of Vista Equity Partners, told the 400-member Class of 2019 in his Sunday commencement speech at the all-male historically black college that he would be creating a grant to wipe the graduates' student debt.

"My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans," Smith, who is currently ranked as the 355th richest person in the world by Forbes, said to the graduating seniors. "You great Morehouse men are bound only by the limits of your own conviction and creativity."

Georgia's 11Alive News reported a Morehouse official said the gift was worth about $40 million.

That is the equivalent of some R580 million. 

Smith also pledged $1.5 million to the school and received an honorary degree from the college during Sunday's ceremony.

"This is my class," he said in his speech. "I know my class will pay this forward."

Smith, whose fortune has been estimated at $2.5 billion, was relatively unknown before making headlines as the second-largest private donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. His gift of $20 million was beaten only by Oprah Winfrey's of $21 million.

Student loan debt in the USA reached its highest level in history in 2019, totalling about $1.5 trillion among 44 million borrowers in the US.

The American national default rate on student loans is about 11 percent, and the state of Georgia's falls just above that average. US Department of Education statistics said in 2018 that 16,538 student loan borrowers are in default in Georgia.

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