Say YES to Free College


Higher Ed Initiatives

Syracuse and SAY YES


by Jared Gellert


There’s an interesting article in Edweek, about the city of Syracuse’s engagement with the Say Yes to Education foundations efforts. The best known element of Say Yes to Education is the promise of free college education for high school graduates in exchange for civic and educational reforms.  But what Syracuse officials discovered was that giving students health insurance, mental health care, tutoring and an academic summer camp are actually much more important. The comprehensive approach brought everyone together, allowed the students to get a broad range of services they needed so they could concentrate on their studies and the school district itself could concentrate on teaching. This broad range of services has resulted in some great results in reducing drop out rates, increased graduation rates and stabilized city population.  The school improvements are dramatic, but still not adequate to meet NCLB requirements.  A broad range of civic leaders are very positive about the program.

While it all sounds very positive, there are two concerns.  The first is simply cost, in the context of economic challenges.  Can Syracuse actually sustain the cost?  The second question I have relates to the ability of complex systems to have multiple foci.  Given the demands of the common core which will take a huge amount of attention of school system officials, do they have the ability to continue to give Say Yes the attention it needs to thrive, along with doing everything the common core will require?

Say Yes has a broader vision than the common core. Which do you think  Syracuse should prioritize and why?

Jared Gellert is the executive director of The Center for Integrated Training and Education .


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