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Biden leads Middle Class Task Force meeting at Syracuse University

September 09, 2009

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Vice President of the United States Joseph R. Biden Jr., L‘68 today led a meeting of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families focused on college access and affordability.

The vice president was joined by Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, President of the National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel, President of the New York State United Teachers Dick Iannuzzi, and SU Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Director of Scholarship & Student Aid Youlonda Copeland-Morgan.

A recorded webcast of the event is available at

Syracuse was chosen to host the meeting because of the University’s commitment to the critical issues of college awareness, access and affordability, and the Syracuse community’s collective work on the Syracuse Say Yes to Education initiative.  At the heart of the Say Yes program are two core components: a K-12 comprehensive support program aligned with the key barriers to college access, along with the promise of free college tuition for all participants.

The event was held at the Goldstein Auditorium in the Hildegarde and J. Myer Schine Student Center on the SU campus. More than 1,000 people attended, including Syracuse city high school students, SU students, parents, Say Yes and school district leaders, faculty, staff and members of the greater Syracuse community.

In introducing Vice President Biden, Cantor said, “Making sure all our children are on track for college is as groundbreaking today as the Erie Canal was in its day.” She urged those who would like to see education reform to “do what Joe Biden has done all his life—get up, and get engaged.”

During the event, Vice President Biden said, “Let me pause to compliment Syracuse University and the entire Syracuse community about the Say Yes to Education initiative.” He pointed out that Say Yes deals with both of the major obstacles to attending college: achievement and affordability.

Secretary Duncan said about the Say Yes program, “What you’re doing—not just for your 12th graders, but also for your kindergarteners and first graders—has profound national implications.” Duncan noted that, after leaving the meeting, he would be visiting Syracuse's Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet Elementary School to observe and learn how the program is making a difference there. “We’re pushing very, very hard for dramatic and effective reform,” he said.

Cantor says, “This was a tremendous opportunity to host our law school alumnus Vice President Joe Biden, and secretaries Duncan and Geithner on our campus for a dynamic discussion of the issues of college awareness, affordability and access. All of Central New York should be proud that this opportunity was made possible because we are a national leader in addressing these critical issues right here in Syracuse. The University’s and community’s work on the Syracuse Say Yes to Education initiative is working to change the lives of 21,000 students and their families in every school in the district.”

Zimpher says, “This month, over 450,000 students are enrolling at the State University of New York. On behalf of those students and their families we are pleased to share in Vice President Biden’s commitment to a high quality education that is accessible and affordable. The close partnership in upstate New York between the State University of New York and Syracuse University is furthering our mutual educational mission and Say Yes is another key example of that collaboration.”

SU College of Law Dean Hannah R. Arterian says, “I am delighted that our College of Law graduate, Vice President Biden, came to Syracuse University with secretaries Duncan and Geithner to have a conversation about the critical issues of education and the economy, particularly as it affects those who are struggling to keep a foothold in the American Dream of economic security and educational opportunity for their families. The vice president demonstrates an understanding of the importance of these domestic issues to the broader issues of peace and security in the world, and it was an honor to have him lead this important group of officials to our campus.”

Copeland-Morgan says, “I'm very appreciative of the opportunity to work with the vice president and the task force on this very important topic. The work of the University in collaboration with the Syracuse City School district and the Say Yes to Education Foundation is targeted toward these exact issues—helping to make education affordable and a reality for all students, but especially those who face the challenge of being middle-income and economically disadvantaged students.”

About Syracuse Say Yes to Education

Syracuse University, Say Yes to Education Inc. (Say Yes) and the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) have joined forces to develop and launch the unprecedented Syracuse Say Yes to Education Program.

For more than 20 years, Say Yes has worked to demonstrate that the persistent and well-documented “achievement gap” between urban and suburban kids is not an accurate measure of students’ abilities or potential but is an “opportunity” or “access” gap. Say Yes has successfully bridged this gap at the level of a single school by implementing comprehensive and integrated support systems that address four major types of obstacles to post-secondary access for low-income students: academic, social-emotional, health and financial. Now the Syracuse Say Yes to Education program is bringing this success to an entire school district—the first program of this scale in the nation.

At the heart of this pioneering program are two core components: 1) a K–12 comprehensive support program aligned with the key barriers to college access, and 2) the promise of free tuition, fees and books for all participants. Any SCSD student is eligible to participate in the Say Yes program as long as he/she completes high school and meets college entrance requirements. A partnership of 23 visionary private colleges and universities in the Northeast has committed its support to Syracuse Say Yes with the offer of free college tuition. Graduating high school students may attend these institutions, along with any SUNY or CUNY college or university.

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