Cleveland, Ohio, Selected to Be Latest Partner Community of Say Yes to Education


Community Has Raised Almost $90 Million for Local Scholarship Fund

With City’s Selection, Number of Students Eligible for Say Yes Scholarships and Support Services Grows by almost 30 percent, to more than 168,000 in New York, North Carolina and Ohio

Coalition of Private Colleges and Universities Offering Scholarships to Eligible Say Yes Scholars Grows by 14, to 117 in 26 States and DC

NEW YORK--()--Say Yes to Education, a leading, national nonprofit organization that partners with communities around the goal of making a college degree affordable and attainable for every public high school graduate, announced today that it has selected Cleveland, Ohio, as the site of its next community chapter.

With a public school enrollment of nearly 39,000 students, Cleveland now joins three other Say Yes communities -- Buffalo and Syracuse in New York, and Guilford County (Greensboro-High Point) in North Carolina -- in committing to make college and other postsecondary scholarships accessible to all eligible public high school graduates for years to come.

Graduates of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District who meet residency and other requirements will have access to scholarships (up to the value of tuition and mandatory fees) to dozens of private colleges and universities in Ohio and around the nation, as well as to in-state public colleges and universities (and industry-recognized credentialing programs) across Ohio.

Say Yes partner communities also provide students with the support services (academic, social-emotional, and health-and-wellness -- from early childhood through grade 12) to ensure they are prepared to succeed in earning a college degree or other postsecondary credential. The selection of Cleveland follows more than two years of due diligence in response to a proposal submitted by the city to the Say Yes organization, which was founded in 1987.

With the addition of the Cleveland Metropolitan City School District, a district that is the second largest in Ohio, the support services and scholarships of Say Yes to Education will now be available to more than 168,000 students in three states. That represents an increase of 30 percent over the last year – and growth of 1,500x from the original 112 students served at the organization’s inception.

Say Yes was founded by money manager George Weiss nearly 32 years ago with a promise to the entire sixth grade at a public school serving a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia: if they graduated high school, he would personally pay to put them through college. In the three decades since, more than 13,000 public school students have gone off to two- and four-year institutions, as well as certificate-granting programs, with support from Say Yes, its partner communities and its partner colleges and universities.

“The members of the Say Yes National Board and I have been deeply impressed, and moved, by the efforts of the city of Cleveland to come together to offer its young people hope – an aspiration that has always served as a cornerstone of Say Yes to Education,’’ Weiss said.

“Our new partners in Cleveland recognize that it requires an enormous investment to raise the aspirations of all students, many of them seeking to become the first in their families to attend college – and, more importantly, to graduate,’’ Weiss added. “There is the obvious financial commitment. But fulfilling that promise also requires community buy-in, a willingness to believe that all children can succeed if they are given not only the opportunity, but the necessary support. That includes tutoring and mentoring as well as services to improve their health and social-emotional well-being.”

Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan District, said: “We have proven that, through The Cleveland Plan, we can improve academic outcomes for Cleveland’s kids. But, we know all too well that there are so many out-of-school hurdles that our students and their families encounter that make fully engaging in learning more difficult than many of their school-aged peers. Say Yes is a comprehensive strategy to wrap services around students and families who need them most and then to ensure that each of those students has the final hurdle, resources for college or a meaningful post-secondary education is cleared as well. Today, we are leaving a legacy for the Cleveland community.”

In approving the application from a consortium of public and private entities in Cleveland – including the City of Cleveland; Cleveland Metropolitan School District; Cleveland Teachers Union; Cuyahoga County; Cleveland Foundation; College Now Greater Cleveland; the United Way of Greater Cleveland, and Cleveland Public Library – the Say Yes organization cited a number of conditions and elements that bode well for success in Cleveland. These include:

  • The local partners’ securing of fundraising commitments of almost $90 million over the last 12 months, toward an ultimate goal of $125 million, for a local college scholarship fund. The fund will make it possible for generations of residents of Cleveland who graduate from schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to receive tuition assistance (covering up to the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees in many instances) to attend in-state public colleges and universities in Ohio, as well as Pell-eligible certificate programs in Ohio
  • The commitment by a host of public agencies and private entities – including the City of Cleveland; Cuyahoga County and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, along with local business; philanthropy; faith-based organizations; social-service providers and higher education institutions – to work collaboratively, across sectors, toward the goal of every public school student (and students at eligible, partnering charter schools) attaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential
  • The efforts already undertaken over the last six years by the city and school district, which have resulted in an 18.6 percentage point increase in the high school graduation rate, from 56.0% in 2011 to 74.6% in 2017
  • The existing partnerships between the local school district and institutions of higher education in the Cleveland area
  • The school district’s commitment to sharing data with outside agencies -- enhancing the community partners’ ability to identify and address the needs of students, and to remove barriers to their success along the pathway to postsecondary readiness
  • The ongoing efforts by Cuyahoga County in support of high-quality preschool and kindergarten readiness

With the approval of the proposal by the consortium in Cleveland, the Say Yes National organization will invest $15 million in the community’s efforts over the next 5 to 6 years, as key milestones are met, including in the scaling of systems and structures to support the Say Yes Cleveland effort. The Say Yes National organization will also provide eligible Cleveland school district and eligible partnering charter school graduates with long-term access to scholarships from the private colleges and universities in the Say Yes National Higher Education Compact.

In launching its Say Yes Cleveland chapter, the Say Yes National organization also announced that 14 private colleges and universities were joining its National Higher Education Compact – increasing its membership to 117 institutions in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

The new partner institutions include nine private colleges and universities in Ohio: Ashland University, Baldwin Wallace University, Case Western Reserve University, College of Wooster, John Carroll University, Notre Dame College, Ohio Northern University, Ohio Wesleyan University and the University of Dayton. Also joining the Say Yes National Compact are three of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- Benedict College in Columbia, SC; Morehouse College in Atlanta, and Paul Quinn College in Dallas – as well as Alfred University in New York and Whitman College in Washington state.

In addition to providing scholarships, the partner colleges and universities in the Say Yes National Higher Education Compact stand with Say Yes and its partners in creating a college-going culture in communities whose young people have been historically underrepresented at the nation’s higher education institutions.

Say Yes scholarships will be available to graduates of Cleveland public schools and partnering charter schools (subject to residency requirements and other criteria) beginning with the high school graduating class of 2019. Students and families should consult the Say Yes Cleveland website for eligibility requirements and other details.

Gene Chasin, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Say Yes, also announced today that the inaugural Executive Director of Say Yes Cleveland would be Diane Downing, a well-known leader in the city whose work has ranged from Huntington Bank to the Cleveland Browns to the Host Committee of the 2016 Republican National Convention.


Founded in 1987, Say Yes to Education is a nonprofit that partners with communities around the goal of every public school student not only graduating high school – but doing so prepared for a college or other postsecondary education, and with access to resources to make that education affordable and equitable. At the heart of Say Yes is a powerful incentive for families and communities: the prospect of a college scholarship. Say Yes and its partners ensure that students have the support outside the classroom to clear the path to academic achievement. Say Yes works with its community partners to bring together local stakeholders and arm that coalition with the tools to boost postsecondary participation and success. Those systems and structures enable the work of the local Say Yes partnership to go to scale and be sustained through predictable transitions in leadership, and historically unpredictable funding from state and local sources. The organization’s support services are available to tens of thousands of public school students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.


Launched in 2019, Say Yes Cleveland is a community collaboration dedicated to the bold promise of Say Yes: to bring together the entire community to ensure Cleveland children have the opportunity – and the support beginning before kindergarten – to not only attend postsecondary education but to graduate and become vibrant citizens.

The City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Foundation, College Now Greater Cleveland and United Way of Greater Cleveland were the initial convening partners who worked with many to make this opportunity a reality.


Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) President Barbara R. Snyder

“We are thrilled for our city and its children that Say Yes has selected our community, and deeply grateful to Say Yes and all of the many, many people who pulled together to make this opportunity possible. We are honored to participate in the program, and eager to welcome still more graduates from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.”

Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA) President David A. Thomas

"Morehouse College is proud to partner with Say Yes to Education. As an institution dedicated to increasing access to a liberal arts education to students from urban areas, we believe that access should not be dictated by circumstance. It should be driven by a student's passion for learning and an institution's heart for impacting the global community."

University of Dayton (Dayton, OH) President Eric F. Spina

“We are proud to support the incredible work of Say Yes to make a difference in the lives of students no matter their socio-economic background. The organization’s efforts align with our own commitment to college access and affordability, academic excellence, and our Marianist tradition of inclusion and community.”

John Carroll University (University Heights, OH) President Dr. Michael D. Johnson, Ph.D

"We are so proud to invest in Cleveland’s future leaders through our partnership with Say Yes to Education, The Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. This relationship highlights John Carroll University’s mission of developing men and women for and with others. Together, we will work to inspire students to be future leaders across our shared community."

Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA) Director of Admission Adam Miller

“Whitman College is delighted to partner with Say Yes To Education to build on our commitment to providing an affordable education to students from across the country and around the world. With the preparation Say Yes provides, we are confident that these students will thrive in Whitman's supportive and challenging community and find success in fulfilling careers after Whitman. We are especially proud to commit to meeting the full financial need of Say Yes students so that any financial barrier to attending and graduating from Whitman will be removed.”

Alfred University (Alfred, NY) Vice President for Enrollment Management Brian Dalton

“Alfred University is thrilled to be a new partner of Say Yes to Education. The partnership embraces the spirit of opportunity and inclusivity that our campus welcomes,” said Brian Dalton, vice president for Enrollment Management at Alfred University. “It allows us to serve more students from New York – with a particular focus, at least initially, on the Say Yes partner community of Buffalo – for students who might not otherwise be able to experience all that Alfred University has to offer. Any program where high caliber students are given a platform for success is one that we are very interested in pursuing.”


City of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson

“As a Say Yes city, we can create an opportunity for Cleveland students, regardless of economic circumstance, to go to college. Say Yes can help support their growth and aid in high-quality educational opportunities for those who traditionally would not have access. This is an excellent example of community partnerships contributing to equitable prosperity for all Clevelanders.”

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish

“There aren’t many communities in the country who have made a promise like this to their kids. The Say Yes program will propel our kids and our community to success in the future. Lots of our children see postsecondary education as a pipe dream. We change that today for many of them. They now have the guarantee, not just the hope, that they will have the support they need to finish high school and go on to get the education they need. We’re setting them up on a path that will enable them to qualify for the many jobs we have open here in Northeast Ohio.”

Cleveland Foundation President and CEO Ronn Richard

“Through an unprecedented philanthropic partnership among foundations, corporations, public organizations, nonprofits and individual donors, Cleveland has stepped up with incredible generosity to greatly enhance the opportunities for our youth today and for years to come. Say Yes to Education has brought our community together like never before. It has put the right systems in place so that our kids can get the best education in a supportive environment that empowers them to become successful, productive, and thriving citizens as they pursue whatever career they dream of. We are so proud to be a part of the team that has said ‘yes’ to our community and its potential for greatness.”

College Now Greater Cleveland CEO Lee Friedman

“College Now is proud to have been a convening partner in helping Cleveland become the final Say Yes chapter and to be managing the scholarship and mentoring parts of this wonderful initiative. We are look forward to ensuring all CMSD and partnering charter high students have a best fit postsecondary plan and the support they need to complete it.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland President and CEO August Napoli

“Experiences in childhood set the groundwork for the direction a child’s life will take. If a child grows up in poverty, they are much more likely to live in poverty as an adult. United Way of Greater Cleveland’s goal is to break this cycle. To accomplish this, United Way of Greater Cleveland has collaborated with partners for the Say Yes initiative to provide wraparound support and services for students, in turn creating a mechanism to disrupt the cycle of poverty and change the future for Clevelanders.”


For Say Yes National:
Jacques Steinberg
212 415 7163

Donnie Turlington
336 991 7711

For Say Yes Cleveland:
Ann Gynn, G Force Communication

Release Summary

Cleveland, Ohio, Selected to Be Latest Partner Community of Say Yes to Education


For Say Yes National:
Jacques Steinberg
212 415 7163

Donnie Turlington
336 991 7711

For Say Yes Cleveland:
Ann Gynn, G Force Communication