High Point Enterprise

They said ‘YES’: College tuition available for GCS students starting in 2016

They said ‘YES’: College tuition available for GCS students starting in 2016
Posted: September 17, 2015

By: Stephanie Butzer SButzer@hpenews.com

JAMESTOWN — Say Yes to Education officially announced its Guilford County partnership Thursday morning at Ragsdale High School.

Hundreds of parents, teachers, education and government leaders, community volunteers, and students of all ages trickled into the high school gym until nearly every seat was taken. Attendees were given a blue or green pom-pom as they entered the high school’s gym, hinting at exciting news to come.

The announcement came after founder and chairman of Say Yes to Education, George Weiss, described how the national Say Yes staff had narrowed 130 possible Say Yes communities to 26 and then six and then the final three.

“And I am really proud to announce that nothing could be finer than to Say Yes to Guilford County, North Carolina,” he said.

Say Yes promises to help all 72,000 Guilford County Schools students get support they need to graduate from high school and prepare for postsecondary success, which advocates say will enrich the future of the county. The county is Say Yes’ third community chapter.

The announcement comes after a long undertaking that started a year and a half ago to attract Say Yes to the county. Guilford County, which is ranked among the top 50 largest school systems in the nation, had to compete against many medium-sized cities and counties who were vying for the same opportunity.

There had to have been substantial financial support for Say Yes as well. Mildred Poole, a community volunteer who gave the first donation for Say Yes to Education Guilford, announced that fundraising efforts had surpassed the minimum expectation — $28 million — set by the national Say Yes in order for Guilford to be considered. The county gathered donations of more than $32.5 million, nearly half of the $70-million endowment needed to fully fund local scholarships each year.

Poole said Say Yes had received pledges ranging from $100 to $5 million. She also announced a new development: HondaJet, a business development in Greensboro, had pledged $500,000.

After a loud round of applause, she turned to the students.

“Our schools demand a lot from you,” she said. “We know you work hard. I want you to know this community is behind you. We believe in you.”

The national Say Yes organization will invest $15 million throughout the next three to five years to help get Say Yes Guilford on its feet. That money also will provide the Say Yes Guilford County staff with resources to create a long-term financial plan so the work in the county is sustainable. After that time period, Say Yes will provide modest funding to cover costs of a small coordinating staff, according to a press release.

The national Say Yes organization will invest $15 million throughout the next three to five years to help students prepare for college through wraparound services, such as after-school programs, tutoring and even legal help for families in distress.

That money also will provide local Say Yes staff with resources to create a long-term financial plan so the work in the county is sustainable.

Say Yes to Education Guilford, the resulting new affiliate of the national organization, will be spreading the word about its new existence via a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, a new website — www.SayYesGuilford.org — and pages on Facebook and Twitter.

The next step will be to hire local Say Yes to Education Guilford staff and identify an office space for the operation.

At a work session in late August, Deputy Guilford County Manager Clarence Grier said the county had identified a possible space in downtown High Point.

Following the announcement, Weiss said he knows not every kid in the audience fully comprehends what Say Yes means for them, but hopes they take away the resulting message.

“I see the smiles, and I’m not sure they totally understand what’s going on, but I want that message to be clear: They have an opportunity, when you look at all the other great men and women in this state of North Carolina, the kids of Guilford County have a huge edge because there’s no longer an excuse for saying, ‘I couldn’t afford to to go to college,’” he said.

Say Yes to Education Guilford expects to begin providing last-dollar tuition scholarships — meaning the scholarships will meet the remaining tuition after other scholarship and grant money — to students who are graduating in the class of 2016 in the spring. Weiss said there are 100 private colleges and universities standing with Say Yes to Education Guilford that can offer free tuition to all eligible Guilford high school students.

Donnie Turlington, communications director for city of Greensboro, said those families whose income falls below $75,000 a year will have the student’s tuition scholarship guaranteed at those private institutions. Students in families who earn more than $75,000 a year will receive an annual grant of up to $5,000 provided by the local endowment to go to those private schools.

These scholarships do not include room and board, textbook costs or fees aside from tuition, Carr said.

Students looking to attend a public, state and community colleges and universities can earn a last-dollar scholarship regardless of income, and as long as the minimum residency requirements have been met. Carr said the scholarships are tiered so that anybody who enrolled in the system before their senior year in high school will get the scholarship.

Carr said a student who has been enrolled in the county schools since sixth grade will qualify for 100 percent of the scholarship, students who enrolled in ninth grade will receive 75 percent, students who enrolled in 10th grade will receive 50 percent, and students who enrolled in 11th grade will receive 25 percent. Those who enroll in the system in 12th grade will not be eligible.

For right now, students should focus on applying and getting accepted to a college of their choice and applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), said Nora Murray, Guilford County Schools spokesperson. More details will be released on the application process in the coming months.

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