Say Yes to Education Inc. Adds Five Marquee Universities to Its Roster of Partners, as It Celebrates Class of 2013

Event Date: 
Monday, June 10, 2013 - 3:15 pm


Say Yes to Education Inc., a national non-profit organization that helps children in low-income school districts to apply to college, pay for it and graduate, announced today that five distinguished private colleges and universities were joining the organization’s higher education compact, which offers substantial tuition assistance and other supports to eligible students.

The institutions are Harvard College, the University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University, Duke University and Georgetown University.

The announcement was made on Monday by George Weiss, the money manager who founded Say Yes a quarter century ago. He spoke at an event in Syracuse commemorating a milestone: the first class of students from the organization’s Syracuse chapter to graduate from four-year colleges and universities.

The organization, which is based in New York City and serves nearly 65,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade in five Northeastern cities, has been working with the Syracuse school district since 2008. The organization expects to expand nationally, to other cities, in the coming years.

A critical component of the Say Yes approach is the scholarships for which the organization’s students are eligible. In Syracuse and Buffalo, which became a Say Yes city in 2012, graduates of the cities’ public high schools are entitled to full-tuition scholarships at any public, two- or four-year college or university in New York State to which they are accepted. Those scholarships are paid through local scholarship funds being raised in Syracuse and Buffalo.

Additionally, the more than three dozen private colleges and universities in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact – including Syracuse University, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and Tufts University – promise full tuition to accepted Say Yes scholars whose family income is at or below $75,000 annually. (Students attending Say Yes compact institutions whose family income is above $75,000 receive annual, $5,000 scholarships from Say Yes itself, in addition to financial aid based on need from those colleges and universities.)

“The Say Yes Compact is about hope,” Mr. Weiss said, “and with the addition of these five terrific universities to our already impressive list, their commitment helps send the message of hope to our young men and women in Syracuse, and in our other cities as well.”

William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admission and financial aid at Harvard College since 1986, said: “Say Yes to Education is providing a critical service to low-income students, many of them the first in their families to apply to college. We are proud to serve as a partner to Say Yes, to the families in its communities and to the other members of the higher education compact.”

In addition to scholarships, the organization and its local partners provide an array of services to students and their families that are intended to eliminate any obstacles to academic success. Those services include mental health counseling, medical care, academic tutoring and legal assistance.

“As any parent knows, it is not enough just to set the goal,’’ said Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the president of Say Yes to Education Inc. “It is the scaffolding we provide that enables each of our children to reach their full potential.”

More than 2,100 graduates of Syracuse Public High Schools have used Say Yes support to attend college since 2009. They are evenly split among two-year and four-year institutions.

For the first 20 years of its existence, Say Yes worked with small groups of students in inner cities – its other chapters are in Harlem, Philadelphia and Hartford – beginning in elementary school and continuing through high school, to prepare them for college and to help them pay for that education.

But beginning in 2008, the organization expanded its approach to apply to entire cities. Thus, in Syracuse and Buffalo, Say Yes works with elected officials, business leaders, community-based organizations and local universities – as well as students, parents, school administrators and teachers – to help every student achieve several core goals: a high school graduation, as well as the completion of a post-secondary education experience, including an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

The fruits of the collective Say Yes effort were on display in Syracuse Monday, at a ceremony at the John T. Roberts School, where Mr. Weiss paid tribute to the 93 Say Yes Syracuse scholars graduating this spring from four-year colleges and universities – the first such class since the organization came to the upstate city, whose school district numbers about 21,000.

“Congratulations to our graduates,’’ Mr. Weiss said. “You should be very proud, as we are, for reaching your goals. But your life has just begun, and when you look to where your future lies, a good part of your mission should be giving back and helping your community, and inspiring young students in Syracuse to fulfill their own dreams.”

Among the institutions granting degrees to the Say Yes Syracuse scholars are Syracuse University, New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, as well as the State University of New York campuses in Albany, Binghamton and Oneonta.

Among the graduates who addressed more than 100 invited guests – including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, Syracuse Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras and Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor – was Jakia Durham. She is a Say Yes Syracuse Scholar who graduated from Herkimer Community College, where she studied criminal justice, before transferring to Syracuse University, from which she is graduating this spring. She is now preparing to apply to law school.

“College seemed so farfetched because I could not afford to go,’’ Ms. Durham said. “I also thought that college was only for smart kids, until my guidance counselor convinced me that I was smart as well, and that is when she introduced the Say Yes program to me.”

Ms. Durham noted that her mother, who passed away before she entered college, had “always wanted me to attend Syracuse University.’’

“Thanks to Say Yes,’’ she added, “I was able to accomplish that goal she set for me.”

Mr. Weiss announced on Monday that Neil Goldberg, president and chief executive officer of the Raymour and Flanigan furniture store chain, which is headquartered in Syracuse, had been elected the newest member of the board of directors of Say Yes to Education Inc.

Say Yes today also released a statistical snapshot of the performance during its first five years in Syracuse. Among the figures provided were these:

  • Between 2009 and 2012, there was a nearly 33 percent increase in the number of Syracuse public high school students who went on to college – from 437 in 2009 to 579 in 2012
  • And the Say Yes Scholars who are in college are staying in college – at rates above the national average. For example, 90 percent of Say Yes students in private, four-year colleges advanced from their freshman to sophomore year last year; nationally, the average is 67 percent
  • Say Yes students and their families are also taking advantage of an array of supports:
    • Nearly 5,000 students in Syracuse annually have benefited from after-school programs
    • 2,800 enroll annually in Say Yes summer enrichment programs in the city
    • Nearly 1,300 children (and 440 families) benefited from Say Yes family support services, including wellness programs and legal assistance
    • More than 90 percent of previously uninsured students now have health insurance

In a statement, Donald C. Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment at the University of Notre Dame, said: “Notre Dame’s enthusiastic participation in the Say Yes program is based on a basic concern. Too many students of great ability, creativity and heart from families with no tradition of going to college are not looking at the top universities with a sense of possibility. We want to reach out to these students earlier and provide the guidance and support to inspire them to match their talents with the right college choices.”

“Northwestern University is very pleased to become a partner with the Say Yes Higher Education Compact," said Michael Mills, Northwestern's associate provost for enrollment management. "A key goal for the University is to provide additional opportunities to top students from economically disadvantaged homes to attend and succeed at Northwestern. Say Yes provides the comprehensive support to assist such students, and we look forward to working with them on this important initiative.”

Stephen Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at Duke, said in a statement: "Say Yes to Education aligns with Duke University's goals of creating opportunities and reducing barriers for all students. We believe that education at Duke and the other members of the Say Yes Compact is a transformative experience that should not be denied because of financial circumstances. Society only benefits from the investments in our best and most ambitious students, regardless of their background."

"Georgetown University is pleased to join with Say Yes, an organization that helps prepare and encourage low income, first-generation college-going students," said Patricia McWade, student financial services dean at Georgetown University. "The Say Yes goals are very much aligned with Georgetown’s Jesuit mission to improve access to education and we are delighted to be part of this important, and much-needed effort."

To learn more about Say Yes to Education Inc., go to For Say Yes Syracuse: