GREENSBORO Fewer students received a scholarship from Say Yes Guilford in 2018-19 than the year before, newly released data shows.

Say Yes Guilford wants to learn more about why that’s the case. For now, officials say they need to do more to publicize the scholarships and to communicate with current Say Yes scholars in college, including about meeting requirements to continue receiving the financial support.

“I think, initially, we know we have some work to do in letting students know that we are still here,” said Wendy Poteat, the organization’s new chief executive officer.

For 2018-19, Say Yes Guilford gave about $1.4 million in scholarships to 875 students, not including scholarships given directly by partnering colleges. The previous academic year, Say Yes gave about $1.37 million to 938 students.

The student number is down despite the program finishing up its third year, having now given scholarships to three high school graduating classes: 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Say Yes Guilford has not changed its scholarship award criteria since 2017. In that initial year of scholarships, the group gave out much more than it expected, forcing officials to make dramatic cuts and changes to the scholarships. They have held the criteria stable since then.

Poteat said that the organization is proud of the number and size of scholarships it offered this year and that she doesn’t know of any other group or organization focusing on Guilford County that has a similar impact. Say Yes Guilford also requires, encourages and helps students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and offers SAT and ACT help.

She said the group’s scholarship board will be meeting this summer to discuss and further analyze the latest scholarship data.

There’s a wide variety of reasons that could contribute to fewer students qualifying for and receiving scholarships. What is clear: numbers dropped among the two returning classes and were lower for 2018 graduates than previous classes.

For the latest academic year, Say Yes Guilford gave scholarships to:

  • 267 students from the Class of 2016, down from 484 the year before.
  • 324 students from the Class of 2017, down from 454 the year before.
  • 284 students from the Class of 2018.

Poteat said Say Yes has a role to play in helping with retention of its scholarship students in college.

She emphasized that the organization should do more to advise students that they need to complete the FAFSA again each year to continue to receive both federal financial aid and the Say Yes scholarship, if they otherwise continue to qualify. Students who miss getting timely, proper financial aid could possibly leave school because of financial hardship.

She also pointed to a need to better inform students that each year they need to sign a waiver to share their FAFSA information with Say Yes. This is a newer step, required by law, that students did not have to take when Say Yes Guilford first started.

She said Say Yes has recently been working with a small staff, and had to focus on managing a transition from being under the Say Yes national organization to assuming local control. Now they are in the process of growing the local staff, she said.

For 2018-19, Say Yes Guilford spent about $467,000 per class, down from just under $700,000 per class last school year.

The organization pays for scholarships through a mix of donations and payout from its endowment.

Say Yes has a target amount of $70 million for its endowment, which is based on being able to provide up to $700,000 for scholarships per class for four classes of college students each year. This upcoming school year will be Say Yes’ first year paying for four classes.

As of this spring, Say Yes Guilford had an endowment of about $13.5 million.

Poteat said she doesn’t know yet how this year’s results will affect Say Yes Guilford’s projections about how much money it expects to need per year for scholarships, but the scholarship board will discuss it this summer. She said Say Yes plans to continue to raise money toward its $70 million target.

Besides the scholarships Say Yes Guilford gives, it also has partnerships with private colleges and universities and UNC-Chapel Hill. For the most recent academic year, 141 Say Yes Guilford scholars received a combined $171,700 in tuition awards and opportunity grants directly from UNC-CH.

Also, private colleges that take part in Say Yes Guilford’s “College Compact” guarantee that they will pay the remaining balance of students’ tuition after other aid for Say Yes Guilford families making less than $75,000 a year. Say Yes Guilford said an additional 178 Guilford County Schools students received roughly $5.5 million, at least, in compact scholarships in the 2018-19 academic year.

Guilford graduates can continue to register for college scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year at https://sayyes guilford.org. Say Yes Guilford registration for rising Guilford County Schools seniors will open Oct. 1.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.