Say Yes Buffalo, a nonprofit focused on strengthening the economy of western New York, has announced a $2.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a regional college success network.
Comprising Say Yes Buffalo, Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo State College, SUNY Erie, Villa Maria College, Medaille College, and the University at Buffalo, the Buffalo College Success Network will help students in the region — with a focus on those from communities of color and low-income households — transition successfully from high school to college and complete a postsecondary certificate or degree. With the aim of increasing Buffalo Public School students' enrollment in postsecondary education, strengthening persistence toward degree completion, and creating a data system that supports collaboration between the district and institutions of higher education, the network will implement and evaluate four main strategies — embedding college students as near-peer mentors in public high schools; implementing a mandatory college transition curriculum in public high schools; hiring additional college success counselors at the five campuses and increasing case management to improve retention rates; and establishing on-campus mental health clinics to assist students who are dealing with social, emotional, or trauma challenges.
The twenty-two-month grant is part of the Gates Foundation's P-16 initiative, which supports efforts to ensure that all learners across the pre-K to postsecondary continuum are on track to earn a credential that enables them to thrive as adults and contribute to their communities. To date, the foundation's P-16 Community Investment Initiative has awarded grants in Chattanooga, Dallas, the Rio Grande Valley, Tacoma, and Buffalo.
Say Yes Buffalo executive director David Rust told public radio station WBFO that since 2012, when the organization was launched, more students have been matriculating but were not necessarily completing their degrees. "This is the first Say Yes city that has extended these supports into the institutes of higher education," said Rust. "It was something I think we needed to do [and] something we didn't anticipate initially."
"[S]ome of these things are going to take a while before we realize the full impact," said Villa Maria College president Matthew Giordano. "But the fact that these conversations are happening and there's this collective will right now — the current students are going to see some of these benefits, too."