In My Mind, I’m Going To Carolina

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We’ve been writing about this since January, but now we can officially say it — Welcome and congratulations, Guilford County!

Say Yes To Education — founded by George Weiss in 1987 in Philadelphia — made the official announcement today that Guilford County, which is home to both Greensboro and High Point, is its newest partner.

Led locally by the Guilford Education Alliance, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the High Point Community Foundation and Guilford County Schools, the region has already raised $32.5 million toward its $70 million goal to fund the endowment for last-dollar tuition scholarships. The district — which has a whopping 72,000 students — is comprised of largely low-income and minority students.

“They often have the smarts, they have the GPA, but the money is not there,” said Felicia Andrews, a parent and local Say Yes organizer.

The current class of seniors — more than 5,000 in total — will be eligible for the funds, although details regarding scholarship eligibility are still being finalized. More than 100 private colleges and universities are part of the Say Yes Higher Education Compact, which also serves students from Say Yes programs in both Buffalo and Syracuse.

Why Guilford County? “We had roughly 130 different cities and counties that we looked at, and we winnowed the list down to literally three, and Guilford County just blew everybody out of the ballpark,” Weiss told Katie Arcieri of the Triad Business Journal. “What made the county stand out? Every time we had a board meeting, Guilford County was just shining like a star. There was really no discussion. What we need is people to put aside their differences and just help the kids, and that’s what Guilford County did.”

So it was easy to say yes.

Protecting The Promises

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At its best, the Promise movement attacks the opportunity gap. But to sustain a Promise program is hardly an easy task. By design, such a program motivates students to perform well academically thus a growing number are expected to meet the requirements each year. On top of that, there is no indication that increasing college costs will level off.

So Promise programs — perhaps the best intervention in attacking the opportunity gap — struggle to keep up. Most of the recent Promise news is focused on finance. Here’s a spin around the nation:

star-denverVoters in Denver, Colo., might be asked to take on responsibility of funding the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The proposal before the Denver City Council is a sales tax increase of 0.08 percent — less than a penny for a $10 purchase — which would generate about $10 million for the scholarship organization. One councilman reported that his constituency is asking why this has become a city responsibility, but a recent study uncovered a nine-fold return on money spent by the Denver Scholarship Foundation. That in a state that has been ranked 47th in the U.S. for higher education funding.

Known locally as UIC, the University of Illinois-Chicago recently stepped up to sweeten the pot for recipients of the Chicago Star Scholarship, which gives free community college tuition to high-performing city students. UIC has offered guaranteed admission and up to $5,000 in support for those who earn an associate’s degree through the program. And outspoken Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to be knocking on the doors of others to talk about their “responsibility to the kids of Chicago.” Emanuel made it clear that he wants higher ed support and he wants it soon, saying, “It would be easy to step back, observe the problem, study the problem, have a couple papers written on the problem, have a symposium on the problem, discuss what people should do about the problem and then go for a break and have a cup of coffee.”

Down in Greensboro, N.C., where more than $25 million has been raised toward an endowment for a Say Yes To Education program, city officials were hardly unanimous in their support of the initiative. At issue? The leaders of the campaign did not reach out to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners until “the ninth inning,” according to the board chair. That county board is also displeased that the early discussion did not include the county’s charter school students, which is “significantly different than where [the Say Yes to Education] board thought we were headed,” according to Gene Chasin of Say Yes.

Two faculty members of the University of Pittsburgh penned an op-ed piece in the Post-Gazette that asked for a focus on state funding for higher education, instead of hand-wringing about recent changes to the Pittsburgh Promise. Lindsay Page and Jennifer Iriti wrote that the purchasing power of the Promise will decline in the face of a lack of support of higher education in the state. “As a community, we should celebrate and grow the gift of The Promise, but we also should seek to protect that gift by pushing Harrisburg to reinvest in public higher education,” the piece concluded. “Without such reinvestment, continued increases in the costs of higher education faced by families will do more to hinder access to the promise and opportunity of higher education than the recent scaling back of The Pittsburgh Promise.”

$5 Mil Toward A Generational Opportunity

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Cities of Promise reported in January that folks in Greensboro, N.C., were excited about the possibility of becoming the first metro area outside of the Northeast to become a member of the Say Yes To Education network.

That initiative got a huge boost this week with the announcement of a $5-million commitment from the Phillips Foundation, which focuses on several components of Greensboro’s vibrancy. Executive Director Elizabeth Phillips explained the largest donation in Phillips Foundation history by calling the Say Yes initiative “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Guilford County.”

The partnerships are being secured in cooperation with Guilford County Schools, the Guilford Education Alliance, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the Community Foundation of High Point. Marquita Brown of the Greensboro News & Record reported that additional donations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

The only other public mention of an entity in the running for the Say Yes grant is Pittsburgh School District, which already benefits from the expansive Pittsburgh Promise program.

Greensboro expects to know the Say Yes decision in the coming months.