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Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel surprises Los Angeles graduates by paying off over $10 million in student loan debt

May 16, 2022, 5:04 PM UTC

The 285 graduates of the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles received an extra special graduation gift Sunday when Evan Spiegel, Snap CEO and co-founder, and his wife Miranda Kerr, founder of beauty brand KORA Organics, announced they will pay off all of the Class of 2022’s student loan debt through a donation to the school.

While the amount of Spiegel and Kerr’s donation was not disclosed, the college said it’s the largest single gift it has ever received, surpassing the previous $10 million record.

“Otis College of Art and Design is an extraordinary institution that encourages young creatives to find their artistic voices and thrive in a variety of industries and careers,” Spiegel and Kerr—who received honorary degrees from the institution— said in a statement. “It is a privilege for our family to give back and support the Class of 2022, and we hope this gift will empower graduates to pursue their passions, contribute to the world, and inspire humanity for years to come.”

Before enrolling at Stanford University, Spiegel attended classes at Otis as a high school student, which he credits with pushing him to become who he is today.

“It changed my life and made me feel at home,” Spiegel reportedly told graduates. “I felt pushed and challenged to grow surrounded by super talented artists and designers, and we were all in it together.”

The gift will be “life changing” for many of the graduates, Charles Hirschhorn, the president of Otis College, said in a statement.

“Student debt weighs heavily on our diverse and talented graduates,” Hirschhorn said. “We hope this donation will provide much-deserved relief and empower them to pursue their aspirations and careers, pay this generosity forward, and become the next leaders of our community.”

Hirschorn did not get into specifics of how the loan repayment will work during the announcement, but said the gift will help repay loans that were certified through the school’s financial aid office.

The college will also use Spiegel and Kerr’s gift to create the Alternative Loan Debt Repayment Fund, which will make charitable gifts to graduating students who have similar educational loans secured outside of Otis College. 

Over 90% of students at Otis, a private nonprofit college, receive financial aid. The Chronicle of Higher Education puts Otis in the top 1% of most diverse colleges in the country, with 77% of its students identifying as non-white and 26% as international students. 

Spiegel and Kerr’s gift comes amid a larger conversation around the student loan debt crisis in the U.S. and student loan forgiveness.

In California, where Otis is based, 3.8 million student loan borrowers collectively owe nearly $142 billion. Currently, total U.S. student loan debt stands at $1.75 trillion.

To address the crisis, President Joe Biden has forgiven $16 billion in federal student loans for some disabled borrowers and students whose institutions defrauded them, Fortune reported. Last month, Biden announced he is considering widespread student loan forgiveness, which may include income caps that could potentially exclude high earners from debt relief. 

Borrowers of color are hit particularly hard by the student loan debt crisis. One in three Hispanic student borrowers have put off getting married due to their student loan debt, and nearly half (46%) of Black student borrowers have postponed buying a home, per the Education Data Initiative

“Removing the burden of student loan debt would allow borrowers of color to begin building their savings at an earlier age,” said Bobby Matson, CEO of Payitoff, a fintech company that’s software lets banks offer student loan refinancing, in a recent Fortune interview. “Starting to save earlier compounds the wealth they would be able to amass over their lifetimes, which, in turn, should assist them in being able to contribute to their children’s educations, reducing dependency on student loans.”

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