The community made strides toward the goal of providing scholarships when Syracuse became the first citywide Say Yes to Education scholarship program in the nation in 2008.
Ten years along, the Syracuse Say Yes program has grown and changed and become the model for a similar citywide Say Yes scholarship program in Buffalo. Its structure also is reflected in New York State’s decision to make available complete undergraduate tuition coverage at New York’s state colleges and universities for most in-state students through the Excelsior scholarship program.
Since 2008, Say Yes has offered a last-dollar tuition guarantee to students who graduate after four years in Syracuse public schools and enroll in SUNY, CUNY or other colleges that commit to be Say Yes partners. The last- dollar scholarships mean that Say Yes covers any part of tuition that is not paid through conventional financial aid programs such as PELL or other scholarships. Say Yes has more than 100 partner colleges and universities. They include some of the most prestigious Ivy League schools and research institutions like MIT, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.
The positive impact of the program has been gradual. That was to be expected, according to one of the first Say Yes Syracuse scholars, David Minney, who graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in social work. He told The Post-Standard after completing his undergraduate degree that “It will probably take 10 years or so to see how much of an impact it will have,” he said. “That’s unfortunate because people like to see results pretty quick. You have to have patience, especially with social change.”
The prospect of a tuition guarantee may be one of the factors driving up graduation rates in city schools, which reached 60 percent in 2016. While 60 percent is far from the district’s goal, it’s an important boost because the Syracuse City School District each year produces more graduates than any other district in Onondaga County – and enrolls nearly twice as many students as the next largest district.
The scholarships are just one of the 20 highlights of the 87 goals set and advanced in the past 20 years. See what can be done and has been done, not necessarily by FOCUS, but by Forging Our Community’s United Strength. To learn more about the 87 Goals and the 20 highlighted go to www.focussyracuse.org.