Press Release

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand & Say Yes to Education Announce 11 New College and University Partners Committed to Tuition Aid for Urban Students

Sep 18, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Say Yes to Education Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing high school and college graduation rates for students in urban school districts, announced today that 11 additional private colleges and universities have joined the organization’s Higher Education Compact, which offers free tuition to eligible students. The announcement was made on Wednesday at a media event on Capitol Hill by George Weiss, the money manager who founded Say Yes to Education 26 years ago, and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime supporter of the program, which is available to all public school students in Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as to groups of students in New York City and Philadelphia.

The 11 new institutions – which bring to 54 the total number in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact — are Cornell University, Hamilton College and Paul Smith’s College in New York; Dartmouth College in New Hampshire; Princeton University in New Jersey; Rice University in Texas; Pomona College in California; Denison University in Ohio; and Rhodes College, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Say Yes to Education, which is based in New York City and serves nearly 65,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade, has been working with the Syracuse City School District since 2008 and with the Buffalo Public Schools since 2012. The organization expects to expand to additional U.S. cities in the coming years.

In August, President Obama traveled to Syracuse and Buffalo, and praised the efforts of Say Yes and its partners in each city. In remarks in Buffalo, Mr. Obama said he had discussed with Mayor Byron Brown  “the great work that’s being done through the program that’s called Say Yes…to make sure that no child in Buffalo has to miss out on a college education because they can’t pay for it.”

Later, in Syracuse, he said, “I wanted to come to Syracuse because you’re doing something fantastic here with programs like Say Yes…” Invoking Say Yes to Education and a Syracuse City School District program called the Smart Scholars Early College High School, the President added: “These are programs that are helping Syracuse kids get ready for college and making sure that they can afford to go. This is a community effort with all of you coming together.”


A critical component of the Say Yes approach is the scholarships for which the organization’s students are eligible. In Syracuse and Buffalo, graduates of the cities’ public high schools are eligible for up to 100 percent of the tuition needed to attend any public, two- or four-year college or university in New York State to which they are accepted. The scholarships are funded by local donors – including individuals, families, foundations and businesses —  in Syracuse and Buffalo.


Additionally, the private colleges and universities in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact – including Syracuse University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Notre Dame – typically promise full tuition to accepted Say Yes scholars whose annual family income is at or below $75,000.


“Say Yes has always been about hope,” Mr. Weiss said. “By standing with Say Yes, what these private colleges and universities are saying is that our students will have the same opportunities as anyone else in this wonderful country of ours.”


“Higher education remains one of the clearest paths to the middle class in this country – and it must be within reach for anyone willing to work their hardest, and earn their degree,’’ Senator Gillibrand said. “Say Yes makes this possible. I saw it in action during one of my very first visits to Syracuse as Senator. I saw right away the effectiveness of local stakeholders at every level working together to support students at every step of the way. And with eleven more colleges joining the Say Yes Compact, and with support like this from the Wallace Foundation for Say Yes in Buffalo – that’s the power to do even more. Say Yes works because it shows young people what’s possible, and brings those possibilities within reach. Say Yes tells our young people – to think big. To dream big. And gives them the chance and the tools to earn it.”


Say Yes made special mention of those new members of its Higher Education Compact that had gone beyond the minimum scholarship requirement set by Say Yes. The organization noted that Cornell, Dartmouth, Rice, Sewanee and Rhodes had committed to cover the full cost of attendance (including charges such as room and board) for eligible Say Yes scholars.


Dartmouth College, Ms. Gillibrand’s alma mater, has committed to cover the full cost of attendance of eligible applicants whose annual family income is at or below $100,000. Say Yes officials said Ms. Gillibrand’s office had also played a critical role in its outreach efforts to Cornell.


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 academic tutoring, legal assistance, mental health counseling, and medical care.


Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the president of Say Yes to Education Inc., expressed the organization’s gratitude to the Wallace Foundation, for recently awarding Say Yes to Education a four-year, $4.5 million grant to support its efforts in Buffalo. The grant, in part, will help the national organization to fund areas in Buffalo such as the implementation of afterschool and summer learning programs, professional development of community-based organizations, and communications. Say Yes previously received a similar grant from Wallace to assist its efforts in Syracuse.


“We are most grateful to Wallace for having partnered with Say Yes to Education over the last three years,” Ms. Schmitt-Carey said. “There is no question that its support has been transformative and has enabled Say Yes to reach more students in need.  This grant will support and advance our shared commitment to providing children in cities with access to educational excellence and opportunity regardless of their background.”


Nancy Devine, director of the Learning & Enrichment Unit at The Wallace Foundation said: “Say Yes represents a promising, citywide approach to the challenge of providing children with the broad base of support that will help them succeed. We are pleased to partner with Say Yes and look forward to learning important lessons that will benefit children in Buffalo and beyond.” 


More than 3,000 high school graduates have gone off to college with Say Yes supports since its inception.  For the first 20 years of its existence, Say Yes worked with groups of students in Philadelphia, Cambridge, Hartford and New York City. Beginning in 2008, the organization expanded its approach to apply to entire cities. In Syracuse and Buffalo, Say Yes works in partnership with local elected officials, business leaders, community-based organizations and local universities – as well as students, parents, school administrators and teachers – to help students graduate high school and complete a post-secondary degree.


Jacques Steinberg, a former New York Times journalist, leads the Say Yes Higher Education Compact as the organization’s Senior Vice President.



See below for a full list of members of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact and for statements from its newest members.

To learn more about Say Yes to Education, go to


Say Yes Higher Education Compact

Private Colleges and Universities















Statements Submitted by New Members

of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact



Barbara Knuth, Associate Provost, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


“Cornell University is committed to providing higher education access for academically talented students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Partnering with Say Yes enables us to make our generous need-based financial aid policies and strong academic programs visible to students in some of the nation’s lowest-income school districts who might otherwise be unaware of their opportunities to enroll at Cornell or similar schools.

“I applaud the efforts of Say Yes to expand and support the academic aspirations of the many talented students in these school districts.


Chris Munoz, Vice President for Enrollment, Rice University, Houston, TX

“Rice University has a socio-economically diverse student body that includes a number of first-generation students, so students in the Say Yes to Education program should feel very welcome here. If these kids work hard, Rice could be in their future, and we’re going to do our part to help them get here.”


Janet Lavin Rapelye, Dean of Admission, Princeton University


“Princeton is delighted to be part of this important initiative, and we are committed to enrolling low-income, high-achieving students. The Say Yes to Education program provides access to those deserving candidates. In 2001, Princeton became the first university in the country to institute a policy of building its financial aid packages on grants, not loans. As a result, our students have the opportunity to graduate debt free.”


Lee Ann Backlund, Dean of Admission & Financial Aid, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN


“The University of the South is delighted to join the Say Yes Higher Education Compact. It represents one more way we can continue Sewanee’s tradition of making a high-quality education possible for capable students, without regard to financial need. The support Say Yes provides to younger students and Sewanee’s commitment to making higher education more accessible should be a great match for deserving students.”


John W. Mills, President, Paul Smith’s College, Paul Smiths, NY


“Since we opened our doors more than 60 years ago, Paul Smith’s has been committed to providing access to higher education for students from all walks of life. A college education is a transformational experience, and we’re proud to be able to work with Say Yes To Education to make that opportunity a reality for even more students.”


Seth Allen, Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid, Pomona College, Claremont, CA


“Pomona College is pleased to be the first West Coast college to join the Say Yes Higher Education Compact and connect with students who might be well-qualified and interested in Pomona but who never thought they could afford it. The partnership gives us another way to let students know about the excellent academic experience we provide as well as our financial aid policies.


We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to be an option for Say Yes students, and we are committed to their success should they wind up at Pomona.”