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The Say Yes Buffalo scholarship program has reported its first concrete progress toward its ultimate goal of getting every Buffalo public high school graduate into college.

Say Yes officials report that 58 percent of eligible public school graduates are attending a partnering college this fall and receiving fully covered tuition benefits.

The program promises to be a transformative opportunity for Buffalo’s school children, and while less than two-thirds of those eligible took advantage this year, we now have a number to measure progress down the road.

Ninety-one percent of all graduating seniors in the Buffalo Public Schools were eligible for Say Yes tuition scholarships, and 83 percent applied. Seventeen percent of eligible graduates did not apply for the aid, and a quarter of those who did apply either didn’t attend college or attended a college not affiliated with Say Yes.

The incentive and motivation that Say Yes provides is priceless. So, too, is the assistance in navigating through the maze of applications for financial assistance and college. University at Buffalo faculty and graduate students sit down individually with seniors to go through the application process for federal grants. UB’s FAFSA Completion Project has been a key factor in a 61 percent increase in Buffalo public school seniors completing the essential financial aid application form on time.

This is especially important for students living in households in which no one has attended college, although even parents with degrees have struggled helping their kids properly fill out all the details of financial aid forms.

Say Yes is a positive force for educational change. The main goal of the organization is to increase college enrollment of Buffalo students.

There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that the $930,000 Say Yes spent from its scholarship fund to close the tuition gap for eligible students was worth it. As Say Yes Buffalo Executive Director David Rust said, the organization’s private dollars were able to leverage more than $7 million in additional state and federal tuition aid and scholarships.

While 40 private colleges are partnering with Say Yes, Medaille College, which enrolled 130 students this year and provided $520,000 in Say Yes scholarships, stands out. Villa Maria, which offers both two- and four-year programs and enrolled 37 Say Yes students, and Canisius College, which enrolled 35, were also big players. Other private partner colleges include D’Youville, Daemen, Hilbert, Houghton and Bryant and Stratton. The majority of Say Yes scholars – 480 – enrolled at either Erie Community College or Niagara County Community College.

Say Yes can use the experience of this first group of graduates to build those numbers in coming years.