Say Yes Revised Scholarship Policies

Chuck Cornelio, Say Yes Guilford Scholarship Board chairman, explains the revised scholarship policies on Thursday in Greensboro.

GREENSBORO — Fewer students will get money from Say Yes for college scholarships and many will get less than before under a plan announced Thursday.

The Say Yes Guilford Scholarship Board said Thursday it is tightening eligibility requirements and capping awards for its scholarships for public colleges and universities, based on income and years attending Guilford County Schools.

The announcement, held at Central Library downtown, followed a meeting of the scholarship board earlier that afternoon.

The biggest cost savings for Say Yes comes from cutting off families that make $100,000 or more per year from accessing the program’s public college and university scholarships — but other income brackets are affected as well.

Say Yes paid about $5.85 million to fund scholarships for 2,426 graduates this year, drawing on money raised from local and regional donors, and overspending what their model predicted. The average payout— about $2,411— is more than expected, though the total number of recipients isn’t. Scholarship board Chairman Chuck Cornelio said they are hoping to bring costs down to around $1 million per year.

Another 67 students received scholarships from partnering private colleges, arranged by Say Yes through its Higher Education compact. The changes don’t affect these scholarships. They are tied up in agreements between the partnering colleges and the national Say Yes organization, Cornelio said.

Cornelio also noted Thursday what he said was a 3 percentage point increase in the proportion of graduating seniors who attended college in the fall. Half went to four-year institutions, he said, also a proportionate increase.

Say Yes’ funding formulas for scholarships have already proved confusing for some families and the new rules don’t look likely to make things simpler to understand. On its website, Say Yes Guilford now lists 13 upcoming information sessions for families across the county.

The 2016 graduates were the first class to participate in the Say Yes program here. Say Yes to Education is a national nonprofit based in New York City. Before launching in Greensboro in 2015, it had community-wide chapters in Syracuse and Buffalo, New York, as well as some smaller chapters.

Many local leaders here were enthusiastic about Say Yes and its model, which involved pairing scholarships for graduates with providing services for students still in grade school, all while attempting to rally disparate parts of a community around shared educational goals.

A key point emphasized by Say Yes and its backers was the “last dollar” tuition scholarship. In essence, Say Yes promised families if their students attended Guilford County Schools for the required number of years, their children could attend a North Carolina public college without having to pay any tuition. Say Yes filled in the “last dollar” for tuition after all other federal, state and institutional aid was applied to tuition.

One implication of a “last dollar” tuition scholarship program is that wealthier families sending graduates to public colleges and universities are likely to get more aid from Say Yes than poorer families. That’s because wealthier families typically qualify for less need-based financial aid. Higher than-expected participation by families that didn’t qualify for much other need-based aid helped contribute to the funding miscalculation, Cornelio has said .

Poorer families could qualify for too much financial aid for tuition, and then not qualify for Say Yes money at all. Say Yes does not cover fees, room and board.

During an interview after Thursday’s announcement, Cornelio said the Say Yes model includes higher income families in part to try to attract them to public schools. It’s good for schools to serve a wide range of students, he said, and for wealthier parents to become invested in the school system.

That still matters, he said, but he said they weren’t as important to the scholarship board as trying to help out families who might have real trouble paying for tuition otherwise.

Under the changed rules, the “last dollar” concept means less.

Just one group gets a full last dollar tuition guarantee: eligible students of families that have an annual income of $40,000 or less who have also been enrolled in Guilford County schools since the ninth grade. They’ll get a 100 percent last dollar tuition scholarship — that’s if their other financial aid isn’t already covering their total tuition.

Beyond that, the new rules begin to tighten both the total cap of how much a family could receive and the number of years a student must have lived in the district.

Beyond that, the new rules begin to tighten both the total cap of how much a family could receive and the number of years a student must have lived in the district. Eligible students with an annual family income of $40,001-$75,000, must have been enrolled since sixth grade and can receive up to $4,500 in tuition assistance, after financial aid. For the $75,001 to $100,000 bracket, they must have been enrolled since fourth grade and can receive up to $2,250 in tuition assistance, after financial aid.

Those who receive the maximum award through federal Pell Grant program will receive a $350 Opportunity Scholarship from Say Yes (down from $1,000 for on-campus students).

The policy will be in effect for all Say Yes Guilford scholars for the 2017-18 college year.

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

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