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What role will Say Yes to Education play now that NY state offering free college tuition?

Tom Magnarelli
A Syracuse Common Council budget hearing for Say Yes to Education.

The Say Yes to Education program provides college tuition to students from the city of Syracuse. But now that New York state has its own free state college tuition program, there are questions as to what role Say Yes will play in the future. Officials that manage the Say Yes endowment say they are waiting on more details about the state’s plan.

President and CEO of the Central New York Community Foundation Peter Dunn said it is too soon to tell how the Say Yes scholarship might change because of the state’s new program.

“We can commend the idea that there is more and more attention to the cost of attending college," Dunn said. "To the extent that there are additional resources like through the Excelsior scholarship, then we’re going to do an economic analysis and see what else we are able to do in terms of the economic needs of students who are going to college. We realize that there are costs beyond tuition.”  

Costs such as books, Dunn said. The Say Yes to Education program also provides tuition to some private schools, unlike the state’s program. And Say Yes does more than just scholarships, it is also providing funding for legal clinics, afterschool programs and social services.

“One of the signature efforts was the placement of mental health experts right in the city schools," Dunn said. "Kids used to have to leave school and go secure those services elsewhere, now they’re being delivered in the schools.”

In addition to assisting 1,000 city school students each year, Dunn said Say Yes has bolstered other achievements.

"Not only is there a notable increase in graduation rates in the city of Syracuse, the graduation gap between white students and African American students has been equalized," Dunn said.

The city of Syracuse is spending $1 million in the mayor’s proposed budget on Say Yes. Dunn said he is waiting on a $20 million contract with the state to fully fund the endowment. Then the endowment can make investments, receive returns, and eventually fund itself in the future.