Cornell joins 'Say Yes' compact to assist urban students

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Joe Schwartz

Cornell University has joined Say Yes to Education Inc., a national nonprofit organization that helps children from urban school districts go to, and pay for, college.

Cornell is one of 11 new members of the organization’s higher education compact; a total of 54 members now offer free tuition to eligible students in several cities through the program.

“Cornell University is committed to providing higher education access for academically talented students from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Vice Provost Barbara Knuth. “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.”

Barb Knuth and Kirsten Gillibrand
Vice Provost Barbara Knuth, left, speaks with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at the Say Yes event in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18.

George Weiss, a money manager who founded Say Yes to Education 26 years ago, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a longtime supporter of the program, announced the 11 new partners Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C.

Say Yes, based in New York City, serves nearly 65,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade and has been working with the Syracuse City School District since 2008 and with schools in Buffalo since 2012. It also reaches groups of students in Philadelphia and Hartford, Conn., and expects to expand nationally in the coming years.

“I am pleased Cornell is joining the Say Yes Higher Education Compact,” said Stephen Philip Johnson, Cornell vice president for government and community relations. “Lobbying Albany and Washington to continue support for student financial aid is a top priority for the government relations staff. I am pleased that Say Yes will complement those programs along with Cornell’s funding for deserving students.”

In August, during a trip through upstate New York, President Barack Obama praised the efforts of Say Yes and its partners in Syracuse and Buffalo.

A critical component of Say Yes is scholarships for which the organization’s students are eligible. In Syracuse and Buffalo, for example, graduates of the cities’ public high schools are eligible for up to 100 percent of tuition to attend 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 raised in Syracuse and Buffalo.

Additionally, colleges and universities in the Say Yes compact promise full tuition to accepted Say Yes scholars whose annual family income is at or below $75,000; private universities also may consider the size of family assets in determining eligibility.

The other new institutions in the compact are Princeton University, Hamilton College, Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondacks, Dartmouth College, Rice University, Pomona College, Denison University, Rhodes College, Sewanee: The University of the South and Vanderbilt University. Current members include Harvard University, Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University, the University of Rochester and Georgetown University.

At the Sept. 18 event, Say Yes leaders mentioned new members of its compact that had gone beyond the minimum scholarship requirement set by the organization. Cornell, Dartmouth, Rice, Sewanee, Rhodes and Vanderbilt have committed to cover the full cost of attendance (including charges such as room and board) for admitted eligible Say Yes scholars.

Say Yes also announced a $4.5 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to support the organization’s efforts in Buffalo and nationally.

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