September 26, 2013
This week, Hamilton College took a step in the right direction, adding its name to the list of private schools with a “Say Yes to Education” program.
The program, founded in 1987 by George A. Weiss, began in Philadelphia, and has now expanded with chapters in Hartford, CT; Cambridge, MA; New York, NY; Syracuse, NY and Buffalo, NY. Say Yes targets four major pain points for low-income, inner-city students: social/economic obstacles, health or health care problems, academic challenges and economic barriers. They follow up with diagnostic assessments and early intervention to get students on theright track towards post-secondary education.
Starting with the class of 2018, Hamilton will essentially waive tuition and fees for qualifying Say Yes students whose annual family income falls below $75,000. A number of students who could not previously afford a Hamilton education will now be able to attend the College.
This is an important change in terms of Hamilton’s use of its financial aid. Before the Say Yes program, the office of Admission provided financial aid on a case-by-case basis. This means that Hamilton looked at inner city, low-income students after they had faced some of the problems mentioned above. The Say Yes program uses a proactive approach to help solve these problems, getting more capable students into four-year colleges. Thirteen percent of students in the Class of 2017 represent the first generation of their family to attend college. This number will only grow as a result of this program.
However, there are arguments against funding programs like Say Yes. Dale Mezzacappa from Smith College wrote in an article titled “Pieces of an Educational Dream” for The Philadelphia Inquirer that while Say Yes “might have been a noble experiment that changed lives, its results have not approached its cost.” Fewer than 80% of students in these programs have graduated college, meaning this program could pull Hamilton’s four-year graduation rate down from 85 percent. Say Yes looks good on the surface, but there are several factors it could improve on. For example, the program could spend more time explaining the meaning of college to its students, rather than just gifting them a four-year education, as it seems to do. Surely, there are non-profits similar to Say Yes, but with better graduation rates for their students.
Another sentiment against investment in these programs has to do with affirmative action. It is likely that Hamilton will admit several Say Yes students over students that are as qualified, but only differentiate in their lower incomes. While Say Yes is well intentioned, Hamilton cannot let this program overstep hard-working applicants who have higher incomes. They are just as deserving of this education and cannot do much about the income of the family they were born into.
Notwithstanding the program’s shortcomings, the addition of Say Yes to the admissions process is a good move for the College. Students who could never dream of attending any postsecondary school will now have a chance to join the Hamilton community.