The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary at their biannual conference on May 5. Former directors and alumni will join current administration and students within the EOP.
The EOP’s beginnings are rooted in the late 1960s during the Rockefeller Administration, when the governor witnessed the connection between class and the availability of resources to create employable people.
Anthony Bonilla, the director of the EOP at SUNY New Paltz commented on the program’s origins.
“There was initiative to help students who didn’t have employable skills to acquire college education or a degree,” Bonilla said.
“ The governor during that time was travelling in many of the inner-cities, and saw people who were standing around, and so he basically said why are they just standing around? And someone said, they just don’t have employable skills. So he said, well we have to do something about that.” He began an access program for college. It first began in the CUNY system, called SEEK.” In 1967, modeled after the SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) program instituted the year prior, Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve brought the program to the SUNY system by developing the bill that later created the Educational Opportunity Program. This program would grow to become a university-wide opportunity program, now an influential part of forty-three campuses in the SUNY system.
“The main reason [EOP was formed] is to provide access into higher education for students who meet certain income and academic guidelines,” Bonilla said. “The income guidelines are basically at the poverty level.”
If these financial and academic guidelines are met, a student enrolled in the EOP is eligible for full TAP, full financial federal aid, and some EOP funds, totaling about $2,800 per year for a student. Students enrolled through EOP receive academic support in the form of a counselor or advisor who works with them for the four or five years that they are students. EOP funds financially for five years.
“Most of the EOP students were not admissible to the general admissions criteria, but with added support, and a bit of financial and academic support, they are able to excel,” said Bonilla.
The retention and graduation rates for those within the program is high; the retention rate for the 2016 class is 90 percent, while the graduation rate within four-to-five years is 83 percent. The most recent entering class was about 150 students, chosen out of 4,900 who applied. A transfer class of about 25-30 students is also supported; students involved in sister programs EOP, HEOP and SEEK are all eligible to be enrolled in SUNY New Paltz’s division of EOP. As long as they transfer from that program, they can still come in as a transfer.
“Our EOP students are performing as well as the general admission students, and some people may ask: why is that?” Bonilla said. “It is the added support that is key. Everybody has the ability and potential, but they just come from situations which do not allow them the opportunity to enhance their skills.”
When asked about the impact of the program on the SUNY New Paltz campus, Bonilla discussed both the upsides and negative realities of the program.
“Fortunately, we have helped with the diversity on our campus. I feel that our program and our students bring a great deal of life experiences, diversification culturally and ethnically. I say unfortunately because most our students fall under the poverty line, meaning that if you are eligible for EOP, that means you’re poor. And unfortunately, most of the students that fall under it are students of color.”
The origins of inequality are connected not only to class and race, but also to geography. 80 percent of EOP students come from New York City, where the funding at the high school level in poorer, inner-city areas faces a disparity in comparison to more affluent, wealthy areas.
According to the 2016 census, a student in a poorer area of NYC recieves about $8,000 a year towards their public education, versus a whopping $31,000 allocated for students attending schools in more affluent areas.
“This disparity makes it difficult for these students to have been provided specific services to students to allow them to get a leg up in a college setting.”
The EOP emphasizes leadership as well, with many students in the EOP becoming campus leaders, earning RA positions, peer mentor positions and other leadership positions.
“We look at the holistic student, not just the academics. We provide career exploration, personal growth and development opportunities, and a lot of self-development is encouraged in their time here with us,” Bonilla said