For several decades, Buffalo, New York has faced a severe economic downturn. As major industries declined in previous decades, economic development and stability has become a central focus in recent years. While manufacturing jobs have hit a low, government jobs and healthcare positions grew as the city’s most common job types, improving the employment rate and the overall economy.

However, a healthy, growing economy can’t be maintained without a talented and supported workforce. Unfortunately, the graduation rate in Buffalo public schools remains relatively low. Although there has been a significant increase from 40 percent high school graduates in 2012 to 63.8 percent in 2016 and 2017, students still need more support to succeed in Buffalo’s current workforce. 

As part of Buffalo’s economic reinvestment, the support of both education and career training is essential to further growth. One nonprofit, Say Yes Buffalo, is dedicated to this mission, focusing on strengthening the Western New York economy by investing in the education of New York’s future workforce. The nonprofit works in partnership with teachers, parents, students, school district, administrators, governments, community organizations and local businesses and foundations to help increase high school and post secondary graduation rates. 

The goal of the organization maintains that all students can graduate from high school or college when given the proper support, resources and opportunities that can help them succeed. 

Programs & Initiatives 

Say Yes Buffalo opened its chapter in 2011, solidifying landmark partnerships with the public school board, Buffalo Teacher Federation, higher education foundations, and a diverse range of Buffalo-area businesses, and philanthropic organizations (among many others) to organize the resources needed to provide holistic vision and year-round support to Buffalo Public Schools so that K-12 may find the support they need through their public education and beyond.  

The initiative seeks to be a long-term financial engine for Buffalo’s economic development. By providing these solutions, Buffalo has the potential to improve its growth and innovation in the economic, cultural and educational sectors. 

One way to do so is through “promise scholarships,” —  100 percent tuition scholarships — first funded by Steering Group’s organization of local businesses to incentivize high school graduation and college completion. Similar programs have been fundamental in cities like Kalamazoo. Once the Steering Group aligned with Say Yes to Education (in partnership with the Syracuse City School District), the program saw completion rates rise due to its support. 

The Say Yes Program already holds a 25-year legacy of improving educational outcomes for urban students. By combining a comprehensive education system complete with family support and promise scholarships, these remove barriers that limit successful student graduation, while also offering the means and support systems that these students need to be successful in two- and four-year institutions. Upon inception, the scholarship campaign raised $13 million in eight months, but also highlighted the commitment of the Buffalo community to work together. With this support, Say Yes National offered Buffalo $15 million in funding and technical support for school improvements and the development of a comprehensive support systems. While school graduation rates in Buffalo have improved since then, today a reasonable goal, set by superintendent Cash Kriner, is to achieve a 70 percent graduation rate in 2019.  

With the promise of three key initiatives —  scholarships, cross-government and sector collaboration, along with community support —  Say Yes Buffalo can uniquely make an impact on the economic development and civic promise of the entire community.