These 10 Tuition-Free “College Promise” Programs Are Changing Our Country’s Future

Kalamazoo Promise (Kalamazoo, MI)

Kalamazoo – photo by Mxobe via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2005, the superintendent of Kalamazoo’s public schools announced that unnamed donors were pledging to pay the tuition at Michigan’s public colleges, universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district’s high schools.

Overnight, students who didn’t think achieving higher education was possible saw the opportunity of college in their future.

The Kalamazoo Promise is currently one of the most inclusive scholarship currently available in America – blind to family income levels, to pupils’ grades, disciplinary records, and criminal records – and has been replicated in cities across the country.

The impact on the Kalamazoo community has been nothing short of tremendous.

According to census data, one of every three students in the Kalamazoo district falls below the national poverty level, where one of every 12 is homeless.

Many of them are the first in their families to finish high school or come from single-parent homes. Some of the students are even young parents themselves: Kalamazoo has one of the highest pregnancy rates among black teenagers in the state.

Here’s how the Kalamazoo Promise impacted the community:

  • The Kalamazoo Promise has paid out $35 million for postsecondary study for 2,500 students. (“Kalamazoo the city that pays for college”, New York Times)
  • 90 percent of Kalamazoo’s graduates today go on to higher education.  (“Kalamazoo the city that pays for college”, New York Times)

The Kalamazoo promise is available for graduates of the Kalamazoo Public School District heading to accredited universities in the state of Michigan. For more information about eligibility and award distribution, visit https://www.kalamazoopromise.com/


Say Yes Guilford (Guilford County, NC)

Greensboro, a city in Guilford County – photo by Beyonce245 via Wikimedia Commons

In September 2016, the Say Yes Guilford Program was announced for students of Guilford County, North Carolina.

The program was made possible by the John M. Belk Endowment of $5.5m, and was originally part of the national organization, “Say Yes to Education”. Responsibility for managing the program was transferred to community parents in July 2018.

The Say Yes Guilford program provides last-dollar tuition and other post-secondary scholarships to eligible Guilford County Schools graduates, so they can afford to complete college or a postsecondary certificate. The program provides access to services, support, and scholarships. The program’s goal is to strengthen the economic competitiveness of North Carolina by developing a more viable workforce and by reimagining the postsecondary education system.

Say Yes was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss. Weiss promised to prepare 112 sixth graders from Philadelphia for college, and to pay their entire college tuition if they graduated high school. Say Yes now helps entire communities make a similar commitment to the students within their communities.

Here’s what some of the Say Yes Guilford recipients had to say:

  • “[High School] Seniors, we need help, but we don’t want to depend on our parents, and my mom, she’s always got stuff to pay for, and she has helped me my whole life. This, I need to give to her… People doubted me all the way through high school, but I got this far, and I have to keep pushing, keep going. The sky is the limit.” – Eddie Jarrett, Scholarship Recipient (http://sayyesguilford.org/eddie/)

The Say Yes Guilford program is available for graduating students of Guilford County School District, who are from families that make less than $100,000/year.

For more information about eligibility and award distribution, visit http://sayyesguilford.org/


Say Yes Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)

photo by Pete716 via Wikimedia Commons

Say Yes Buffalo began in 2012, as The John R. Oishei Foundation and local business leaders looked to improve the local economy by improving educational outcomes for low-income students.

When it was launched, Say Yes Buffalo became the second Say Yes chapter to partner with an entire city school district.

Say Yes Buffalo scholarships and grants are available to graduates of Buffalo public and charter schools and are privately funded by individuals, families, businesses and organizations.

Say Yes was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss. Weiss promised to prepare 112 sixth graders from Philadelphia for college, and to pay their entire college tuition if they graduated high school.

Say Yes now helps entire communities make a similar commitment to the students within their communities.

The mission of the Say Yes Buffalo partnership is to strengthen the Western New York economy by investing in the education of Buffalo’s future workforce.

Their vision is that every student can graduate high school and college when given the proper supports, resources, and opportunities.

Here’s what the Buffalo community had to say:

  • “During my senior year I saw kids that were saying ‘I’m not going to college, I’m going to work’ begin to say, ‘I got accepted to Medaille and I’m going.’ They changed over time because of Say Yes.”– Cheyenne Ketter-Frankin, Scholarship Recipient. (http://sayyesbuffalo.org/)

Say Yes Buffalo provides scholarships to eligible graduates of Buffalo public and charter schools to all State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools and more than 90 private colleges and universities.

For more information about eligibility and award distribution, visit http://sayyesbuffalo.org/scholarships/scholarship-program/

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