Cleveland Celebrates Historic Day That Will Change the Lives of Its Children and Alter the City’s Future

CLEVELAND (Jan. 18, 2019) – There’s no more asking “what if?” Today, Cleveland officially became the fourth Say Yes to Education community-wide chapter in the nation, upping the city’s game for thousands of children – which will ultimately help create a thriving center city and a robust regional economy.

Highlights of the announcement include:

Scholarships for 25 Years

Over the next 25 years, eligible students living in Cleveland* and attending the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) or partnering charter high school will have the opportunity to receive scholarships toward tuition for postsecondary education (four-year university, two-year college or Pell-eligible certificate program.) The scholarship program will begin with the high school graduating class of 2019.

$125 Million Fundraising Campaign Launches Publicly

Almost $90 million has been raised locally in the early phase to provide scholarships to any public university, college or Pell-eligible certificate program in Ohio. Cleveland students also now have access to tuition scholarships from over 100 private colleges in the Say Yes National Higher Education Compact. (Nine private colleges and universities in Ohio joined the Compact today, bringing the number of participating institutions in the state to 12.)

How Say Yes Will Impact Cleveland

The goals of the Say Yes Cleveland are to increase education levels of Cleveland residents; boost and retain population in the city of Cleveland; improve college access for middle- and low-income families in Cleveland; and spur economic growth and expansion in the region.

After a multi-round review process, the Say Yes to Education national organization informed Cleveland in May 2017 that it had satisfied the early milestones on the long path to become the next chapter of Say Yes. Since then, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have been working diligently to meet the final requirements to become a chapter.

Say Yes to Education Founder and Chairman George Weiss: “The members of the Say Yes National Board and I have been deeply impressed, and moved, by the efforts of the city of Cleveland to come together to offer its young people hope – an aspiration that has always served as a cornerstone of Say Yes to Education.

“Our new partners in Cleveland recognize that it requires an enormous investment to raise the aspirations of all students, many of them seeking to become the first in their families to attend college – and, more importantly, to graduate. There is the obvious financial commitment. But fulfilling that promise also requires community buy-in, a willingness to believe that all children can succeed if they are given not only the opportunity, but the necessary support. That includes tutoring and mentoring as well as services to improve their health and social-emotional well-being.”

A key differentiator of the Say Yes communitywide strategy – and a reason Cleveland pursued the opportunity – is that it’s not just a scholarship program. Its framework calls for all entities serving the community’s children to share their data to better address students’ individual needs and connect them to additional support services, academic and non-academic, from pre-K through postsecondary graduation.

In More Detail …


  • All students who have continuously lived in Cleveland* and been enrolled in a CMSD or eligible partnering charter high school since the beginning of ninth grade are eligible for the scholarship.
    • For students in the graduating classes of 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 – who meet the residency requirements as of January 18, 2019 – and are continuously enrolled in a CMSD or eligible partnering charter high school through graduation – will receive the same scholarship as the class of 2023 and subsequent years.
    • *Eligible students who reside in Bratenahl, Linndale, Newburgh Heights, and parts of Brook Park and Garfield Heights assigned to the CMSD are also eligible for the Say Yes scholarship if they graduate from the CMSD or partnering charter high school.

NOTE: The Say Yes Scholarship Application Portal opens online on Monday, Feb. 4 for students in the graduating class of 2019. Students also are encouraged to check in with their high school counselors or College Now advisor.

The public is encouraged to visit to learn more.

College Now Greater Cleveland is administering the scholarship program.

The Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship Hotline is open.

Phone: 216.454.5400

Fundraising – Public Phase Launches; Private Phase Concludes with Almost $90 Million

  • Cleveland has raised almost $90 million to launch the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship Fund, the largest amount raised in a pre-launch in the history of Say Yes to Education. The amount is over $13 million more than the 60% ($75 million) of the total scholarship fund required by Say Yes to Education to launch the chapter.
  • The Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship Fund begins its public campaign to reach the $125 million goal necessary to provide scholarships for 25 years. More than 40 foundations, businesses, families, and individuals have already contributed. (Donor list included in this media kit.)

    Donations can be made through

New Say Yes Cleveland Executive Director

  • Diane Downing, who has been an active leader in Cleveland’s business and nonprofit communities, is the new executive director who will lead Say Yes Cleveland. A standalone release will be sent separately from Say Yes National.

Mentoring for All Scholarship Students

  • All scholarship recipients are required to participate in Say Yes Cleveland mentoring program, which is being administered by College Now Greater Cleveland. Given the success of the existing College Now mentor programing that is already helping students matriculate, the community was eager to make this a requirement – Cleveland is the first Say Yes chapter to require mentoring participation.

    Cleveland will need many mentors. To sign up or learn more, visit

Support Services

  • Aided by $15 million in seed money from Say Yes to Education, Cleveland will accelerate the rollout of critical core services to all CMSD and eligible partnering charter schools over the next four years, beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. Say Yes to Education requires chapters to complete the rollout in no more than six years.
    • Core services include a family support specialist in each school, out-of-school learning opportunities (including after-school and summer programs), school- or neighborhood-based mental health services, and accessible legal clinics.
    • Rollout plan: 15% of schools in 2019-20, an additional 25% in 2020-21, 30% more in 2021-22, and the remaining 30% in 2022-23
  • Six local entities have agreed to work collaboratively with each other and with Say Yes to Education to provide support services to students: City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Council of Administrators and Supervisors, Cleveland Teachers Union, and Cleveland Public Library.

9 More Ohio Schools Join Say Yes to Education National Higher Education Compact

  • The Say Yes to Education National Higher Education Compact expanded by 14 colleges, including nine in Ohio – Ashland University, Baldwin Wallace University, Case Western Reserve University, College of Wooster, John Carroll University, Notre Dame College, Ohio Northern University, Ohio Wesleyan University and the University of Dayton – who join previous Ohio members, Denison University, Kenyon College, and Oberlin College.

Also joining the Say Yes National Compact are three Historically Black Colleges and Universities -– Benedict College in Columbia, SC; Morehouse College in Atlanta, and Paul Quinn College in Dallas – as well as Alfred University in New York and Whitman College in Washington state.

Leaders of Convening Partners Excited to Officially Launch Chapter

Leaders of the original convening partners share their thoughts on what Say Yes Cleveland now means for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County:

City of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson

“As a Say Yes city, we can create an opportunity for Cleveland students, regardless of economic circumstance, to go to college. Say Yes can help support their growth and aid in high-quality educational opportunities for those who traditionally would not have access. This is an excellent example of community partnerships contributing to equitable prosperity for all Clevelanders.”

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish

“There aren’t many communities in the country who have made a promise like this to their kids. The Say Yes program will propel our kids and our community to success in the future. Lots of our children see postsecondary education as a pipe dream. We change that today for many of them. They now have the guarantee, not just the hope, that they will have the support they need to finish high school and go on to get the education they need. We’re setting them up on a path that will enable them to qualify for the many jobs we have open here in Northeast Ohio.” 

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon

“We have proven that, through The Cleveland Plan, we can improve academic outcomes for Cleveland’s kids. However, we know all too well that there are so many out-of-school hurdles that our students and their families encounter that make fully engaging in learning more difficult than (it is for?) many of their school-aged peers. Say Yes is a comprehensive strategy to wrap services around students and families who need them most and then to ensure that each of those students has the final hurdle – resources for college or a meaningful post-secondary education – cleared as well. Today, we are leaving a legacy for the Cleveland community.”

Cleveland Foundation President and CEO Ronn Richard

“Through an unprecedented philanthropic partnership among foundations, corporations, public organizations, nonprofits and individual donors, Cleveland has stepped up with incredible generosity to greatly enhance the opportunities for our youth today and for years to come. Say Yes to Education has brought our community together like never before. It has put the right systems in place so that our kids can get the best education in a supportive environment that empowers them to become successful, productive, and thriving citizens as they pursue whatever career they dream of. We are so proud to be a part of the team that has said ‘yes’ to our community and its potential for greatness.”

College Now Greater Cleveland CEO Lee Friedman

“College Now is proud to have been a convening partner in helping Cleveland become the final Say Yes chapter and to be managing the scholarship and mentoring components of this wonderful initiative.  We are looking forward to ensuring all CMSD and partnering charter high students have a best-fit postsecondary plan and the support they need to complete it.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland President and CEO August Napoli
“Experiences in childhood set the groundwork for the direction a child’s life will take. If a child grows up in poverty, they are much more likely to live in poverty as an adult. United Way of Greater Cleveland’s goal is to break this cycle. To accomplish this, United Way of Greater Cleveland has collaborated with partners for the Say Yes initiative to provide wraparound support and services for students, in turn creating a mechanism to disrupt the cycle of poverty and change the future for Clevelanders.”

Media contact:

Ann Gynn
On Behalf of Say Yes to Education Cleveland
(216) 235.4566

Alan Ashby
Cleveland Foundation
(330) 212.0994