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Mahoney announces $20 million for Syracuse Say Yes, preserving free tuition program

'Say Yes' tuition program needed to raise $20 million in 15 months
'Say Yes' tuition program needed to raise $20 million in 15 months
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SYRACUSE, NY -- Say Yes Syracuse is receiving a big lift from the county that will allow it to permanently endow its scholarships going forward.

Say Yes to Education has helped thousands of Syracuse City School District graduates - including many from low income neighborhoods - to receive free college tuition. Since the City of Syracuse partnered with Say Yes eight years ago, the promise of free college tuition has been one of the city's best selling points.

However there were concerns Say Yes would soon have to start saying "no" if it could not raise $20 million in just 15 months.

That concern was put to rest Tuesday night when Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced a $20 million contribution towards the Syracuse College Promise will be distributed to the Say Yes Scholarship Endowment Fund in full this year.

"This is a tremendous example of collective impact working to change the community for the better," said Peter Dunn, Community Foundation President & CEO.

Before that announcement, there were worries that Say Yes Syracuse would not reach its goal to build up a $30 million dollar scholarship endowment fund and take over tuition costs. In eight years it had only collected ten million dollars for its endowment fund.

The national Say Yes to Education organization had said it planned to stop paying for Syracuse area scholarships in June 2017.

Private schools like Syracuse University cover the costs of tuition for Say Yes students who attend. If Syracuse had not come up with $20 million in the next 15 months, Say Yes might have had to stop offering free college tuition to public colleges in New York State.

Five of the ten million dollars in the Syracuse endowment fund come from North Syracuse based SRC Incorporated. The research and defense company provided a matching grant that the city has met with help from some creative financing. On Tuesday, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner announced that proceeds from bonds issued by the Syracuse Local Development Corporation will go towards Say Yes to Education. Those proceeds are expected to be $400,000.

Dunn, Syracuse City School Board of Education president Derrick Dorsey and Board of Education Commissioner Katie Sojewicz all said they believed fundraising efforts were gaining momentum and were hopeful solutions could be found in the next year. All three also recognized that the promise of free college tuition for city students was in jeopardy if the endowment was not built up.

"If you don't have the resources you can't fund the scholarships however I think we have seen repeatedly that the community has come together, all the different stake holders in this, to get us to the point where we can create sustainability," said Dunn.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has been a strong advocate for the positive impact Say Yes to Education has had on thousands of low income students. Miner has assisted with fundraising for Say Yes and before the announcement from Mahoney came Tuesday night, Miner said she was confident Syracuse can keep the promise of free tuition.

"We are going to continue to be creative and find a way of doing that," said Miner. She said she also hopes the city's support will prove to donors that "this is a priority for our community."

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The national Say Yes organization now requires cities that partner with them to have self sufficient scholarship endowment funds within six years. Syracuse had been granted extra time because it was first city in the U.S. to partner with Say Yes.

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