Groups To Cover College Tuition For Guilford Students

Sep 18, 2015

Credit Chris Becker / Flickr Creative Commons

A group of donors is going start paying for Guilford County students’ in-state college tuition next year. 

Several Guilford County organizations and Guilford County schools have partnered with a national foundation called Say Yes to Education. Together they've raised $32.6 million in private donations for an endowment to cover tuition costs for the district's students at all in-state public colleges and universities, as well as 100 nation-wide private universities, including Duke University and Harvard University.

Chuck Cornelio is chair of the Guilford Education Alliance, a nonprofit involved in creating the endowment and shepherding the partnership with Say Yes. He says the endowment means starting next year, all Guilford County students who graduate, and who have been in Guilford public schools since the sixth grade, will be able to attend any in-state public college or university they get into at no tuition cost.

Guilford County schools superintendent Maurice Green says students welcomed the news at a rally at Ragsdale High School.

"There was enormous excitement from the students who were there," Green said. "They can see how much it means for them, or could mean for them and their families."

Two-thirds of students in Guilford County are low-income, and Green says he's heard from many families that tuition costs often stop students from going on to college. He says he thinks this endowment will change that.

"This helps to reduce or eliminate one of the most significant barriers to them being able to pursue higher education."

The endowment offers students "last-dollar scholarships," which will cover any tuition costs remaining for students after other scholarships and federal grants are taken into account.

Students who enter the district later than seventh grade will be entitled to a portion of tuition coverage as well, but those scholarships will vary based on the number of grades they've spent in Guilford County schools. Charter school students, however, will not be eligible.

Cornelio says with the funds raised so far, the endowment can start covering tuition costs starting next year. But for the program to viable into the future, groups need to raise a total of $70 million.

As part of Guilford County schools' partnership with Say Yes, Say Yes is giving $15 million to the district to pay for "wrap-around services." These services include counselors who keep track of each individual student to make sure he or she has access to support needed to succeed in school, such as health care, tutoring or social services.

Say Yes has implemented similar programs in Buffalo and Syracuse, New York. Guilford County is the first school district outside of the Northeast Say Yes has chosen to partner with.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a group of nonprofits is going to start paying for Guilford County students' in-state college tuition. It is actually a group of donors that are providing the funds. An earlier version also incorrectly stated that students who've been in Guilford schools since the seventh grade will be eligible to have all of their tuition covered. It is actually students who have been in Guilford schools since the sixth grade who will be eligible to have all their tuition covered.