BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — When 18-year-old Cheyenne Ketter-Franklin begins classes at the University at Buffalo next week, she will be spared at least one anxiety — the prospect of being saddled with a mountain of higher-education debt.
An innovative scholarship program that offers up to full tuition to any Buffalo public or charter school graduate accepted to college is taking away that worry for Ketter-Franklin and hundreds of other students, and giving parents a powerful incentive to stay.
The public-private partnership is just the kind of model that its supporters hope President Barack Obama will tout when he comes to the Buffalo campus Thursday to talk about ways to make college more affordable.
"We're removing the most significant barrier, which is financial, in a region that's struggled for decades now," said David Rust, executive director of Say Yes to Education, Buffalo, "and that's right in line with what he's talking about, and that's affordable college for all."
Buffalo's fledgling Say Yes program already had been on the U.S. Department of Education's radar when Obama's visit to the city was announced, said Rust, who answered department questions about it a few months ago. Once the visit was confirmed, Say Yes lobbied for a mention in the president's speech, but Rust secured something even better — an invitation to meet with Obama.
"I think we have a ton to offer the president, his team, the Department of Education on exactly what he's coming here to talk about," Rust said. "We can offer a model that can be replicated throughout the country."
Obama's visit to Buffalo is the first in a two-day bus tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania, where the White House says he will lay out ideas to help make a college education more affordable for the middle class.
Say Yes has chapters in Buffalo, Syracuse, Philadelphia, Hartford, Conn., and New York City's Harlem neighborhood, each offering varying degrees of academic, social and financial supports intended to increase high school and college graduation rates. The tuition scholarships, which provide gap funding for tuition not covered by federal or state aid or other scholarships, are funded locally through donations from individuals, businesses and philanthropic groups.
"I'm relieved for starters," Ketter-Franklin said, especially as she watches her sister Kathyran struggle under $40,000 worth of debt after graduating from Canisius College in May, before Say Yes began in Buffalo with the class of 2013.
"College is stressful enough on its own," she said. "Knowing that you're going to have this money, that it's guaranteed and doesn't have to be another thing to worry about, definitely makes looking forward to college and enjoying the college life a lot easier."
In Syracuse and Buffalo, Say Yes lets eligible high school graduates go to any of the colleges and universities in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems, vocational schools or participating private institutions that include Notre Dame, Harvard and Duke.
After Buffalo, the president planned a stop at Henninger High School in Syracuse Thursday. On Friday, he plans to answer questions at a town hall-style event at SUNY Binghamton before a stop at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa, where he was to be joined by Vice President Joe Biden.