8 RHINO TIMES | Thursday, March 16, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com
No Means No, But Sometimes So Does ?Say Yes?
by Scott D. Yost The huge financial fail of Say Yes Guilford ? a program established to help Guilford County families pay college tuition for high school graduates ? has sent a giant shockwave through the community and left confusion, questions, fingerpointing, potential lawsuits and hostility in its wake. The program was presented to the community in 2015 as a ?winwin? initiative: an endowment-based scholarship program that would pay the ?last dollars? of the cost of college after other fi nancial grants and loans were exhausted. But on Thursday, March 12, hours after the publication of a Rhino Times article on the large shortfall that would not allow the organization to continue operating as promised, Say Yes sent an email notifi cation to Guilford County school offi cials and posted a web announcement for disappointed parents and community contributors that stated that the Say Yes Guilford program was fi nancially unsustainable. By Thursday evening, Say Yes had posted an update on its web page and its Facebook page to that effect. ?Say Yes Guilford is considering making changes to the requirements for scholarships to North Carolina public colleges and universities,? the statement read. The group had projected about $900,000 in payouts needed for the fi rst year of operation ? the 2016- 2017 school year ? but, instead, the actual cost of the fi rst year totaled $6.1 million, nearly seven times more than expected. That also meant that, instead of an expected needed endowment of $70 million, the program required about $550 million. So far, Say Yes has $42 million in pledges and commitments but only a part of that $42 million in hand. Say Yes will not say how much money it has in its possession and how much money has only been promised. Because of the giant shortfall, Say Yes announced it would be forced to make changes to the program and limit the scholarship offerings in some way. One way the program is expected to do that is by means testing families and offering the program only to needy ones rather than those at all income levels as was hyped for the last two years. ?In communities that partner with Say Yes to Education, the independent local Scholarship Board approves the distribution of Say Yes scholarships, and conducts annual reviews of its policies and award formulas,? the Say Yes statement reads. ?In carefully reviewing its scholarship model and policies, the Say Yes Guilford Scholarship Board is considering revisions to the income qualifications for the scholarships. While local and national leaders worked in good faith to create a scholarship program in the fall of 2015 that would be available to the class of 2016, the Scholarship Board?s review has determined that the current formulas for scholarship awards are not sustainable. The experience of our fi rst year in Guilford has far exceeded our expectations, as more than 2,000 recent Guilford County Schools graduates went off to colleges and other postsecondary programs with scholarships provided by, or arranged through, Say Yes Guilford. But to preserve the economic viability of the program, it is apparent that changes will be necessary.? Though some of the payments promised for students in the program for the 2017 spring semester have not been paid out yet, Say Yes state, ?Payments for the spring semester are still being processed and students in the class of 2016 currently enrolled in college will continue to have their 2016-17 payments submitted. There will be no change in funding for this current school year.? It is good news for those families in the fi rst year of the program that they will at least get the funding they were expecting for the current year. However, with $5.2 million more costs than anticipated in the fi rst year, it?s not clear where that money is coming from. Say Yes has been very secretive about its fi nancial situation, and, presumably, most of the money donated to the nonprofi t organization is legally committed to funding the endowment and therefore can?t be used to pay costs for the fi rst-year of the program. Also, while the college freshmen enrolled in the Say Yes program will (continued on next page)