For a city with the nation’s second highest rate of child
poverty and a low percentage of college graduates, the move
promises to be a game changer. Besides opening doors for
students who may have once dismissed post-secondary education as
unaffordable, creating Say Yes Cleveland has the potential to
attract new residents and spur economic growth.
Philanthropist George Weiss,
who founded the national nonprofit Say Yes organization
31 years ago, announced Cleveland’s selection Friday at the
John Marshall Campus. Students who packed the gym stood and
cheered, while others saw the event live-streamed in an overflow
area and high schools across the District.
Yes to Education is the right thing at the right time for
the Cleveland schools, for the city of Cleveland and for you,”
said Mayor Frank G. Jackson, who joined other community
leaders in applauding the news.
How the scholarship plan works
Starting this spring, students can receive up to the full value
of tuition, minus federal and state aid, for any public two-year
college, four-year college or Pell-eligible technical program in
Scholarships also can be used at the more than 100 private
colleges and universities that belong to the
Higher Education Compact. The names of 12 new
compact members were announced Friday, including local
institutions Case Western Reserve, John Carroll, Baldwin
Wallace, and Notre Dame.
The scholarships can be used only for tuition, not for expenses
such as housing, books and meals.
Recipients must live in the District and attend CMSD or
partnering charter high schools. Current high school students
who maintain residency can qualify, but starting with the Class
of 2023, recipients must have been enrolled continuously from
ninth grade through graduation.
Students entering the gym did not know why they had been called
together; seniors Lynnae Howard and Jasmin Diaz
were unaware even as they took the stage to extend greetings to
dozens of community leaders and other adults in attendance.
“People are in debt because of college,” said Lynnae, who plans
to attend Ashland University, another new compact member,
to study forensic science or prepare for a career in the sports
industry. "It's amazing we don't have to worry about that.”
think it's going to change lives," said Jasmin, who intends to
study social work at Ohio State University. "A lot of people
don't have this kind of opportunity."
CMSD, Say Yes hope to reverse trend
Under The Cleveland Plan, CMSD has seen its graduation
rate reach a series of record highs, and fewer of those
graduates have required remediation in college.
But the number of District graduates who enroll in college has
gone down. District CEO Eric Gordon notes that Buffalo,
another Say Yes chapter, has seen college enrollment
“Our families don’t have conversations about going to college,”
Gordon said. “Parents don’t want to promise their kids something
they can’t give them.”
Say Yes Cleveland
is a community effort. Besides the District, partners include
Cuyahoga County, the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Public
Library, Cleveland Teachers Union Local 279 and the Cleveland
Council of Administrators and Supervisors, an association of
District officials. Foundations and other entities provided
“When there's a challenge, we find a way to come together and
make a difference," Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish told
the students. “We're here for you, and we will not let you
The community is raising enough money to fund scholarships for
25 years – two generations of students. So far, more than 40
foundations, corporations, families and individuals have
contributed nearly $90 million, or $15 million more than the
national Say Yes organization had required to launch the
The number needs to reach $125 million. Say Yes Cleveland
will seek to raise the balance over the next five years, and
leaders are confident they will reach their goal.
Say Yes Cleveland
is trying to create a culture around going to college or
enrolling in other post-secondary training. They say the mindset
is critical to keeping the region competitive in an
“Have tenacity and dare to dream big," KeyBank Chairman and
CEO Beth E. Mooney, another speaker, told the students at
John Marshall. "When you're done, there's a place for you in our
Support services are key
addition to scholarships, Say Yes Cleveland will align
existing community services, in and out of school, to help
students and families overcome barriers to success. Examples
include tutoring, after-school programming, mental-health
counseling and free legal assistance.
Every school in the District will be assigned a family support
specialist, or case manager, who will customize services to
families’ needs. Services will be rolled out in 15 percent of
the schools next school year and be phased in at the rest over
the following three years.
“The scholarships are important,” said Gene Chasin,
president of the national Say Yes organization. “But the
real story is the work that goes on to provide academic and
non-academic support needed going all the way back to
College Now Greater Cleveland
will assign a mentor for each of the District’s
seniors. The mentors will check in with the students by email
twice a month and help connect them with internships and jobs.
The national Say Yes organization selected its fourth
chapter from a field of 20 communities. The number was cut to
six, and then two before Cleveland was chosen. Chasin said
Say Yes looked for commitments, across sectors, to
transparency, collaboration, data-based decisions and
National Say Yes leaders worked with the community
partners for more than two years on a host of tasks that
included developing the scholarship model, raising money,
ironing out memorandums of understanding and crafting a plan for
the support services. The national organization also provided
$15 million for start-up costs.
CEO Gordon said the Say Yes decision helped fulfill a
promise he made after being named CEO in 2011.
knew 7 1/2 years ago that Cleveland would keep that promise," he
said. "Dreams do come true".
CMSD and College Now counselors are being trained to help
seniors apply for the scholarships. An online application will
go live on Feb. 4. For more information, go to
SayYesCleveland.org or call
the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship hotline, 216-454-5400.
Source: CMSD NEWS BUREAU