At a media event on Capitol Hill today, the nonprofit organization Say Yes to Education announced that Pomona College and 10 other private colleges and universities have joined the Say Yes – Higher Education Compact, which offers free tuition to eligible students.

Say Yes to Education is a national non-profit committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for inner-city youth. Say Yes serves nearly 65,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade, and has been working with the Syracuse City School District since 2008 and with the Buffalo Public Schools since 2012. They provide comprehensive supports, including the promise of a tuition scholarship, extended day programming, mentoring, tutoring, school-day academic support, family services, healthcare and legal services.

According to Seth Allen, Pomona's vice president of admissions and financial aid, Say Yes is a great fit for Pomona. "The partnership gives us another way to let students know about the excellent academic experience we provide as well as our financial aid policies of need blind admissions and meeting financial aid need with scholarships. Our hope is that we connect with students who might be well qualified and interested in Pomona but who never thought they could afford it. We're enthusiastic about the opportunity to be an option for Say Yes students, and we are committed to their success should they wind up at Pomona."

Pomona College has long been a leader in financial aid. In 2012-13, approximately $34.3 million in financial aid was awarded to Pomona College students. The average financial aid package was $40,508.

The announcement was made by George Weiss, who founded Say Yes to Education, and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime supporter of the program, which is available to all public school students in Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as to groups of students in New York City and Philadelphia.

In addition to Pomona, the 11 new institutions – which bring to 54 the total number in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact – are Cornell University, Hamilton College and Paul Smith's College in New York; Dartmouth College in New Hampshire; Princeton University in New Jersey; Rice University in Texas; Denison University in Ohio; and Rhodes College, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The private colleges and universities in the Say Yes Higher Education Compact typically promise full tuition to accepted Say Yes scholars whose annual family income is at or below $75,000.

In recent visits to both Syracuse and Buffalo, President Barack Obama has praised the efforts of Say Yes to make sure that no child in those cities "has to miss out on a college education because they can't pay for it." In Syracuse he declared that: "These are programs that are helping….kids get ready for college and making sure that they can afford to go."

"Higher education remains one of the clearest paths to the middle class in this country – and it must be within reach for anyone willing to work their hardest, and earn their degree,'' Senator Gillibrand said at today's media event. "Say Yes works because it shows young people what's possible, and brings those possibilities within reach. Say Yes tells our young people – to think big. To dream big. And gives them the chance and the tools to earn it."

More than 3,000 high school graduates have gone to college with Say Yes support since its inception. For the first 20 years of its existence, Say Yes worked with groups of students in Philadelphia, Cambridge, Hartford and New York City. Beginning in 2008, the organization expanded its approach to apply to entire cities. In Syracuse and Buffalo, Say Yes works in partnership with local elected officials, business leaders, community-based organizations and local universities – as well as students, parents, school administrators and teachers – to help students graduate high school and complete a post-secondary degree.

Updated on 9/26/13 to include 2012-13 financial aid data.