The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Say Yes Buffalo and its partner institutions — including UB — a 22-month, $2.9 million grant to increase college completion rates for Buffalo Public Schools graduates.
UB will be involved in the “knowledge-management” aspect of the grant, which will be led by Nathan Daun-Barnett, associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education.
Daun-Barnett says UB’s work will include:
- Assisting in evaluation of the grant. “Are we achieving the outcomes” as specified in the grant, he explains. This also will include participation in a learning community, which he calls “an opportunity to learn from one another as we develop community-based strategies.” Five communities were funded for this work: Buffalo, Chattanooga, Dallas, Rio Grande Valley, and Tacoma. The educational consulting firm Education First will lead the learning community.
- Expansion of UB’s FAFSA Completion Project, in which GSE students work with students in the Buffalo Public Schools to complete the students’ FAFSA applications for federal financial aid for college. The plan, Daun-Barnett says, is to increase the number of Say Yes scholars — Buffalo Public Schools students who are attending college via a Say Yes scholarship — who will mentor city students and their families in completing the FAFSA. With 38 of last year’s 46 Say Yes scholars coming from UB, the aim is to expand the number of scholars taking part in the project from the other local universities hosting scholars, as well as from UB.
- Developing the Buffalo College Success Network, a new initiative supported by the grant to help Buffalo students successfully transition from high school to college, and ultimately earn a postsecondary degree or certificate. The network includes Say Yes, the Buffalo Public Schools and the five local higher education institutions that admit the largest number of Say Yes scholars: UB, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Erie, Medaille College and Villa Maria College. Daun-Barnett says the Michigan College Access Network will serve as a model for the Buffalo network.
- Creating a P-12 data warehouse for the Buffalo Public Schools with a long-term goal of launching a P-16 data system, allowing for sharing of information between the public school district and the institutions of higher education regarding what students need to achieve success.
The Gates foundation grant also will fund several other initiatives in the Buffalo Public Schools:
- Embedding “near-peer mentors” — recent high school graduates who are now in college — in high schools to offer students advice on what to expect and how to prepare for college. UB will increase its presence in the schools to help with the college choice and financial aid processes by through expansion of the FAFSA Completion Project.
- Creating a mandatory college-transition curriculum for all students graduating high school.
- Creating 11 new “college success” counselors on the campuses of Buffalo State, Medaille, ECC and Villa Maria.
- Establishing on-campus mental health clinics staffed by licensed clinicians to help students deal with some of the emotional and social challenges that could hamper their ability to succeed in college.
Say Yes Buffalo, launched in 2012, is a community collaboration dedicated to strengthening the city’s public school system and increasing high school and postsecondary graduation rates. Among its initiatives is a college scholarship program for Buffalo Public Schools students.
UB has been involved in numerous Say Yes activities over the years, among them the FAFSA Completion Program, College Success Centers at several city high schools and Say Yes’ community schools programming, including the Saturday Academies.