Student Freedom Initiative

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is proud to partner with the single purpose nonprofit organization, Student Freedom Initiative. Student Freedom Initiative offers students new opportunities for professional and life choices at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) by increasing students’ social and economic mobility. Student Freedom Initiative supports students in several ways, using a student-centric, evidence-based, holistic and collaborative approach with their participating schools. The unique program provides academic support, career opportunities, as well as funding alternatives for eligible students.

This new program was first launched at nine Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the fall of 2021 and is available to students at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Through Student Freedom Initiative, qualifying UMES students may be able to participate in an income-contingent funding alternative to Parent PLUS and private educational loan programs, known as a Student Freedom Agreement. In addition to this financial program, Student Freedom Initiative and UMES will work together to provide additional student support programs, available to all Hawks including:




Who is Eligible for Student Freedom Initiative?

Who is Eligible for Student Freedom Initiative?

All UMES students are eligible to participate in Student Freedom Initiative academic and career support programs, including tutoring and mentoring and paid internship opportunities via internX. Look for details on applying for these student support programs as the program rolls out at UMES. The funding alternative program, Student Freedom Agreement, it should be noted, has particular eligibility requirements. 

The Student Freedom Agreement will initially only be available to rising juniors and seniors at UMES, as determined by credit hour, majoring in an approved science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program.

Our UMES administration, working with Student Freedom Initiative, has approved the following UMES majors for participation in the initiative’s Student Freedom Agreement:

  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Marine Science
  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry

Rising juniors and seniors majoring in any of the aforementioned programs must also meet specific criteria to be eligible to receive funding under a Student Freedom Agreement. The criteria includes:

  • Completed a FAFSA or acceptable alternative state aid application that is accepted and approved by student’s school;
  • A valid Social Security Number;
  • Not an international student or foreign exchange student authorized to enter the United States on a non-immigrant visa;
  • Majority age or older;
  • Junior or senior for the school year being funded;
  • Enrolled full-time for the coming academic term (unless we grant an exception because student requires less than full-time enrollment to complete his/her bachelor’s degree in her/his final year of study);
  • Working towards a degree in an approved STEM major; and
  • Meeting satisfactory academic progress as defined by student’s school.

To learn more about Student Freedom Initiative and the Student Freedom  Agreement, please contact the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Office of Financial Aid, or visit Student Freedom Initiative’s website.

What is the Student Freedom Agreement?

What is the Student Freedom Agreement?

University of Maryland Eastern Shore does not endorse Student Freedom Initiative’s Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus and other private education loans product. University of Maryland Eastern Shore is not affiliated with Student Freedom Initiative.

Rising junior and senior students in a qualified STEM program who meet all of the program’s requirements may apply for the Student Freedom Agreement as a funding alternative. If enrolled in the Student Freedom Agreement, the student agrees to make monthly payments after graduation for no more than 20 years. However, there are limits and provisions to these payments.

Unlike other fixed payments, monthly payments to Student Freedom Initiative through a Student Freedom Agreement may rise and fall depending on the participant’s earnings. In addition, for any reason students may defer payments for a total of 12 months. And if a student declares bankruptcy, is permanently disabled, or passes away, the agreement is declared null and void. All payments made by students are filtered back into the program to benefit the next generation of applicable students.

The Student Freedom Agreement’s goal is to act as an alternative finance opportunity that is different from high-cost Parent PLUS loans and other private student loans. But, the Agreement is not meant to be the only source of a student’s financial aid. Rather, it is designed to be used as a portion of overall financial aid funding. It is not the intent of the Student Freedom Agreement to replace state or institutional aid, federal grants, work-study funds or Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans.

The income-contingent funding alternative aims to cover financing gaps that would have been filled by other loan options. A Student Freedom Agreement is capped at $20,000 per academic year of the remaining cost of attendance, or for a total of $40,000. It cannot exceed the total cost of attendance at any participating college or university.

Eligible students who are interested in signing a Student Freedom Agreement should speak with their financial aid counselors or another qualified UMES professional. These counselors can advise students and provide helpful insight into the agreement, as well as offer information about traditional student loans and other options that may be available. While the Student Freedom Agreement might be beneficial to many UMES students, it is important to weigh your individual options and make an informed decision.

To learn more about the Student Freedom Agreement, to apply for the program and to enter into an Agreement, visit the Student Freedom Initiative website. Interested students should also carefully read all documents provided by Student Freedom Initiative before, during and after applying for a Student Freedom Agreement. These materials will contain important information about the terms of the Student Freedom Agreement, including the application and approval process.

The History of Student Freedom Initiative

Learn About the History of Student Freedom Initiative

Entrepreneur Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of global investment firm Vista Equity Partners, conceived of Student Freedom Initiative after making a gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019. This newsworthy donation, in which he paid approximately $34 million to pay off the student loans of the entire graduating class, was just the tip of the iceberg for Smith’s search for making generational change for students of color. Afterwards, Smith began to consult with a team of experts on how to reach more students and make more lasting changes.

Designed to help address the debt disparity among African American students and their white counterparts, Student Freedom Initiative aims to help students who historically disproportionately bear more student loan debt. Hoping to help generations of students and college graduates, Student Freedom Initiative has just begun its journey.

Student Freedom Initiative launched in the fall of 2021 at nine HBCUs. Funded with an initial $50 million gift from the Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director, Smith personally matched the Foundation’s gift to help launch this ambitious program bringing the total donated to $100 million. In the fall of 2021, the Initiative announced a strategic partnership with the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation which will serve to continue to elevate students’ excellence via Student Freedom Initiative. Other organizations have also offered their support for Student Freedom Initiative, including the Walmart Foundation, Cisco, and AVC Technologies. Some corporate partners will provide financial assistance, while others will help support individual schools’ needs through technology or other capacity building assistance, including training and expertise.

For the latest information on Student Freedom Initiative, please visit the program’s website, or follow them on social media, including Instagram and Twitter.

Logo of Student Freedom Initiative, a single purpose nonprofit organization
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