New York City-based Say Yes, which began 26 years ago working with small groups of students, shifted its approach in 2008 to work with entire high-needs cities. In Syracuse and Buffalo, Say Yes provides academic and social supports to students attending any public or charter school, followed by the promise of college tuition upon graduation from high school. Groups of students in Philadelphia and New York City also are eligible.
"Say Yes has always been about hope," said Weiss, a money manager. "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."
While the participating private institutions waive tuition for accepted students, Say Yes pays the tuition for Syracuse and Buffalo students attending any public two- or four-year college in New York state. Those scholarships, funded through local donations, pay the difference between the cost of tuition and whatever other aid or scholarships a student receives.
Say Yes got a plug from President Barack Obama during his August visit to upstate New York, with him praising the work being done "to make sure that no child in Buffalo has to miss out on a college education because they can't pay for it."
The private colleges typically promise tuition for students from families earning less than $75,000 per year, but Dartmouth has raised the family income limit to $100,000. In addition, Cornell, Dartmouth, Rice, Rhodes and Sewanee will cover the full cost of attendance, including room and board, instead of tuition only.
"Rice University has a socio-economically diverse student body that includes a number of first-generation students, so the Say Yes to Education program should feel very welcome here," said Chris Munoz, the Houston university's vice president for enrollment. "If these kids work hard, Rice could be in their future, and we're going to do our part to help them get here."
For students from families with incomes above $75,000 and who attend private colleges, Say Yes provides $5,000 scholarships.
"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," Gillibrand said.
Say Yes expects to expand to more cities.