The power of saying yes

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As our state government systematically lays our public school system to waste by starving it of resources and diverting some of what’s left to a privatized charter school system, Guilford County gets a much-needed lift from a nonprofit out of upstate New York.

Say Yes to Education is a great idea: a nonprofit that, one community at a time, creates a fund intended to help the students of that area pay for college. Guilford County was accepted into the program last week after amassing $32.5 million of the $70 million necessary to start a fund.

Early money came from individuals — some of whom wished to remain anonymous — philanthropic foundations and private corporations.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

Across the Triad and the rest of the state, students have been grapping with the high cost of tuition — the UNC System has seen two tuition increases since 2011. And there are not enough advanced-degree holders in the county to fill some of the new jobs being created there, particularly in nanotechnology and aerospace.

Though there are seven colleges and universities in Guilford County as well as a law school and a community college, just a third of its residents have advanced degrees, more than in the rest of the state but significantly below the national average of 40 percent.

Say Yes directly addresses that deficit.

But more than these immediate benefits, Say Yes to Education acknowledges that the entire community benefits from an educated populace. It emphasizes the importance of education in a state that often seems to marginalize it. It pushes students back towards public education — only Guilford County Schools students are eligible for the grants — at a time when people are turning away from this important resource. And even more, it gives a path to higher education to thousands of kids who otherwise might not be able to attain it.

A person with a college degree will — on average over her working life — earn $1 million more than a person without, and each year the price of tuition moves even further out of reach for most of the people in Guilford County, where a year at a state school is equal to 15 percent of its median household income.

More than just lip service, Say Yes actually does something to support those kids as they pursue their potential, giving them — and their parents — a gift of hope.

And until working people are paid enough to send their kids to college like they did just a couple generations ago, Say Yes is a necessary bridge.