Frank Baker Pays Off Tuition For Graduates Of Historically Black College
One year ago, Robert Smith, the wealthiest African-American, stunned the nation by pledging to pay off the student loans of the 2019 class of Morehouse College. While giving his commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of the historically black all-male college, Smith also issued a challenge.
“I’ve got the alumni over there and this is a challenge to you alumni,” Smith said at the time. “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward. Because we are enough to take care of our own community.”
Smith’s $34 million gift got the attention of Frank Baker, who has known Smith for years. Like Smith, Baker is an African-American who found business success by starting a private equity firm that invests in technology companies. Smith and Baker both started their Wall Street careers in 1994 in the mergers and acquisitions group of Goldman Sachs.
Baker has taken Smith’s challenge seriously and this week announced he would be paying the tuition balances of about 50 seniors who are graduating from Spelman College, the all-women historically black college in Atlanta.
“Robert was fortunate enough to go to Cornell and Columbia and him giving to Morehouse was a nod to the recognition that the majority of African-Americans going to college are graduating from historically black institutions,” said Baker, who graduated from the University of Chicago, in an interview. “We need to make sure these schools continue to be viable. We are all part of the same community. It doesn’t matter if I went to the school or not.”
The founder of Siris Capital in N.Y., Baker, 47, decided to go about things a little bit differently than Smith. He wanted to help high-achieving Spelman students who could not afford to get to the finish line and graduate. Baker had been in discussions with Spelman’s board of trustees about putting together a program, but accelerated his plans after the pandemic hit and he got a call from Spelman a week ago. He was told there were about 50 high-achieving seniors who had balances and needed help.
“The people who my heart really goes out to are women in their senior year who can’t afford it anymore and have to drop out,” says Baker. “These are the most resilient people because if they run out of money their senior year, you know they were out of money their sophomore year and just made it work.”
Baker has spent $250,000 to cover the tuition balances of about 50 women so they could graduate this year with no money owed to Spelman College. He has committed to continuing to spend no less than $1 million to help Spelman seniors in similar situations for the next three years.
“These are the women we need in the workforce,” says Baker. “They are going to make a difference.”