Cleveland Foundation Gives $40 Million For Say Yes Cleveland Scholarships

Marilyn Macario, the 2019 valedictorian of Max Hayes High School, with an Ohio State sign in her front yard.
Mariyln Macario, the 2019 valedictorian of Max Hayes High School, headed to The Ohio State University this fall as one of the first Cleveland Metropolitan School District students to take advantage of Say Yes To Education Tuition Assistance. [Kevin Morrissey / ideastream]

The Cleveland Foundation is giving $40 million to the city’s Say Yes to Education tuition-assistance fund — the largest gift in the philanthropic group’s 105-year history.

Local Say Yes to Education organizers say they have raised $92 million out of the $125 million endowment needed to help Cleveland Metropolitan School District students afford college and other post-secondary schooling over the next 25 years.  

“We think it’s the most important thing we can do for Cleveland. We have to grow our workforce for the future,” said Cleveland Foundation CEO Ronn Richard. “We need these kids to succeed for themselves, for their families, and for Cleveland.”

Richard points out the scholarships are not only for college tuition.

“It’s for whatever a child wants to do,” he said. “So if they want to be a welder, they want to be a carpenter, they want to be an electrician, it will fund any career technical education program in addition to college and so no one’s being left out.”

CMSD joined the New York-based Say Yes to Education nonprofit in January and provided tuition assistance to some 850 Cleveland students from the class of 2019. This year, CMSD also began providing wraparound services supported by Say Yes at 16 schools. The group plans to have its programs in all of the city’s public school by the 2022-23 academic year.

Say Yes could be transformative for Cleveland, Richard says he believes, helping to attract people back to Cleveland’s neighborhoods and its city core. He says the scholarships can help build a culture of attending college or other post-secondary education.

“I think that candidly, a lot of parents in the past didn’t emphasize college to their children because they didn’t think they could afford it, and they didn’t want their child to work hard, get into college, and not be able to go. They didn’t want to break their hearts,” Richard said. “Now we have to reverse that trend and make sure that everyone knows that college or a trade is in their future for sure. They don’t have to worry about funding it.”

According to Say Yes Cleveland, the scholarship endowment fund also received a $10 million gift from the George Gund Foundation and $10 million from KeyBank Foundation.

The Cleveland Foundation says its commitment to Say Yes is four times the amount of the foundation’s previous single largest grant of $10 million, but Richard notes it will not affect the organization’s normal grant making.

“We’re not going to give less to the arts or other educational institutions or social service institutions because we made this historically large grant for Say Yes to Education,” said Richard.

He says he hopes the gift will inspire others to give as Say Yes works to raise the remaining $33 million to reach its goal.

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