Our Mission

About Us

What if an entire community came together to ensure that each of its children had the opportunity to go to college?

That is the promise of Say Yes to Education.

Say Yes was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss, who boldly promised more than 100 sixth graders at a Philadelphia public school that he would pay to send them to college if they graduated high school.

In the years since, Say Yes has evolved into a national nonprofit that organizes and galvanizes communities around the goals of every public school student graduating high school -- and then being able to attain, afford and complete a post-secondary education.

The Say Yes citywide strategy is an innovative and comprehensive response to a national crisis: upwards of one of every three students in the nation’s low income school districts leaves high school before graduating. And of those who do earn diplomas and enroll in a four year college or university, nearly 40 percent do not graduate from that institution in six years, let alone four.

Say Yes believes that regardless of economic circumstance or social standing, each child can achieve a post-secondary education and go on to be an actively contributing member of his or her community, if given proper opportunities and support.

The organization currently works with nearly 65,000 public school students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Most are in citywide chapters in the upstate New York cities of Syracuse (since 2008) and Buffalo (2012). The organization has smaller chapters in Harlem and Philadelphia, and expects to add at least one communitywide chapter, outside of New York State, in 2015.

Key Elements of the Say Yes Approach:


The Scholarships

At the heart of the Say Yes program is a powerful financial incentive for families and communities alike: the prospect of free college tuition.

Say Yes and its partners make it possible through fundraising for a community’s public high school graduates to receive full tuition scholarships to any in-state public college and university – regardless of family income.

 As a “last dollar” scholarship, Say Yes awards are made after Pell grants and other outside financial aid have been taken into account. Most Say Yes Scholars are also eligible (based on family income, and upon admission) for free tuition from the 70 private colleges and universities that comprise the Say Yes Higher Education Compact.


The Collaboration

Say Yes brings together every stakeholder in a community — city and county government; the school district; parents; teachers; businesses; unions; philanthropic and faith-based organizations; colleges and universities — and arms that coalition with the tools to boost post-secondary participation and success. Say Yes also works in close partnership with leading educational and business management experts, as well as some of the nation’s most prestigious foundations.


The Supports

Say Yes and its partners ensure that students and their families have the resources outside the classroom — tutoring; after-school and summer programs; medical care; counseling and legal help — to clear the path to academic success. The organization’s work is rigorous and based on research. Students’ progress toward college readiness is tracked through the Say Yes Student Monitoring and Intervention System, through which social service agencies and other partner organizations are able to provide particular resources to children and families in need of assistance. This support and enrichment can help give students from all backgrounds the educational experiences and positive outcomes that more affluent communities demand.


The Economic Impact

Armed by Say Yes with a post-secondary degree or certificate, the program's scholars will enter the local (and national) workforce with the qualifications to excel in a range of occupations, including those crucial to the growth of a 21st Century economy. Investing in our scholars now will yield a rich dividend in the future -- not only for them but by relieving the strain on social services. In the process, your investment can serve to break the cycle of poverty and help revitalize the communities in which Say Yes is a partner.



After six years of close collaboration with the national Say Yes organization, each Say Yes city must take ownership of the effort – assuming local responsibility for sustaining the scholarship endowment, and for providing other supports to students and their families.

While the Say Yes imprimatur remains, as does the community’s access to the scholarships from the private colleges and universities of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact, the role of the national organization transitions to that of a guide and resource.

Among the broader, long-term goals of Say Yes to Education is to develop a template for communities around the nation to adapt and implement as a pathway for getting graduates of their public schools to, and through, college – either with direct support from Say Yes or by following the organization’s lead.

It is in this regard that Say Yes sees itself as much more than a strategy – it is a movement.

For Further Information on Say Yes, contact:

Sonja Smash

Higher Education and Communications Specialist


212 415 4590