Say Yes Buffalo may be relatively new to town, but there are already promising signs that students and parents are heeding the organization’s message of the importance of education. Still, there is much work to do in the Buffalo School District.

Only four months after the introduction of Say Yes to Education’s promise of a free college education for all qualified graduates, district officials estimate that 92 percent of eligible seniors have applied to at least one college or vocational school. The deadline is April 1, so the number could go even higher. Contrast that to last year’s estimate of 55 percent.

Moreover, New York University, Columbia University and Fordham University have joined the organization’s private college compact. Tuition at any school in the compact would be free for families with incomes of less than $75,000; families making more than that would be offered $20,000 toward tuition. Say Yes is picking up tuition costs that remain after federal and institutional grants and scholarships are considered. Tuition costs are covered regardless of family income for high school graduates accepted to one of the more than 100 participating SUNY/CUNY schools and private institutions, and for vocational certificates in a number of fields.

A March 16 News article detailed the numbers and passion evoked among parents, grandparents, educators and other stakeholders.

This development shouldn’t be overstated – it says nothing about any improvement in the city’s dismal graduation rate. But the fact that so many more of those who do manage to graduate are trying to further their education is a hopeful sign.

Time will tell if the possibility of a free college education will be enough motivation for parents and students to improve that graduation rate.

Clotilde Dedecker, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, tells the story of an elementary school teacher who said a seventh-grader scolded his younger brother for poor behavior and issued the warning that he was in danger of not getting the Say Yes scholarship if he didn’t straighten up.

That is exactly the type of peer pressure students should put on each other. The prospect of a free college education is a tremendous incentive to graduate. The intensive resources and help that Say Yes offers students should be heartening for parents and grandparents who have not gone to college and may be overwhelmed by the entry process.

These latest statistics are but a small and early step on the road to the larger goal of a successful school system. And yet, the numbers are a rare hint of progress.