Our Story

Say Yes was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss, who promised to prepare 112 Philadelphia sixth graders for college, and to pay their college tuition if they graduated high school. Say Yes now helps entire communities make a similar commitment to every public high school student.

Say Yes to Education Promise

The promises made today by Say Yes communities to their children can be traced back nearly three decades to Mr. Weiss’s original commitment to those 112 public school students in Philadelphia.

Beginning as early as kindergarten, and continuing through 12th grade and beyond, the services offered by Say Yes community partners to every public school student (and their families) may include tutoring; after-school programming; summer camp; school-based medical care and counseling; advice on college admissions and financial aid; and free legal assistance.

Say Yes also helps communities develop a pathway of milestones to post-secondary readiness — and to create systems for analyzing data to ensure that students remain on track to graduate. Those who fall behind can receive support services from a range of local partners, with the goal of eliminating predictable barriers to achievement.

All of these efforts are intended to ensure that every public school student in a Say Yes community can take full advantage of the local partnership’s tuition promise. Public high school graduates in Say Yes communities are eligible to receive scholarships covering the full cost of tuition to any in-state public college or university, regardless of family income. Those scholarships are paid by funds raised locally through contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals.

In addition, Say Yes Scholars whose annual family income is at or below $75,000 — and who gain admission to 1 of the nearly 100 private colleges and universities in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact — are typically eligible to receive scholarships covering the full cost of tuition. Those admitted to a Compact institution (including the eight colleges and universities of the Ivy League, as well as Duke, Stanford and Notre Dame) whose family income exceeds $75,000 annually qualify for an annual scholarship of up to $5,000 from Say Yes.


For its first two decades, Say Yes worked with cohorts of children, all from low-income and other backgrounds historically underrepresented on the nation’s college and university campuses. The chapters ranged in size from about 100 to 300, in cities and states where Mr. Weiss had a personal connection.

These included Philadelphia (Mr. Weiss is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania); Cambridge, Mass. (he was raised outside of Boston); Hartford, Conn. (the original site of his money management business, and where he still maintains offices) and Harlem in New York City (Mr. Weiss’s firm, Weiss Multi-Strategies, has offices in Manhattan.)

In each of the original Say Yes cohort chapters, students graduated high school — and college — at rates exceeding those of students from similar backgrounds in the public school district as a whole.

Encouraged by these results but seeking ways to take the Say Yes idea to scale, the Say Yes board, led by Mr. Weiss as its chairman, hired Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey as the organization’s president in 2006. A veteran of the school reform movement who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during the administration of President Bill Clinton, Ms. Schmitt-Carey led the process of developing ways to extend Say Yes services and scholarships across an entire community. She soon hired Gene Chasin, a former classroom teacher, principal and superintendent — and the former CEO of one of the largest school reform efforts in the country — to be Say Yes’ chief operating officer.

The first Say Yes city-wide chapter was piloted in the upstate New York city of Syracuse, beginning in 2008. The second followed four years later, in Buffalo, New York’s second largest city. During the 2014-15 school year, Say Yes services were available to nearly 65,000 children. More than 5,000 students have gone off to college with the support of Say Yes, most since 2013.

Say Yes announced its third community chapter on Sept. 17, 2015, in Guilford County, North Carolina, which includes the cities of Greensboro and High Point and serves 72,000 students in the county school district. It is a district larger than those in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. The organization seeks to select and launch its fourth community chapter in 2016.With the addition of Guilford County, Say Yes scholarships and supports will soon be available to nearly 140,000 public school students. Mr. Weiss remains the organization’s chairman; Ms. Schmitt-Carey, its president, and Mr. Chasin, its chief operating officer.

Contact Us

Are you inspired by the goals and approach of Say Yes? We invite you to reach out to the Say Yes National office or to a Say Yes chapter, to learn more about how you can get involved.