The Educational Opportunity Program makes completion possible for many

An opportunity to obtain a college degree and higher level of learning for all is a cornerstone of the SUNY mission. Students from different financial backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, and family structures know that they will be welcomed at any one of our 64 campuses. Through our Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and countless others, SUNY and its students, together through our history, have shown New York’s families that despite challenges in their past and any of the struggles they may face along their path to a degree, completing a SUNY education is possible with the right support.

The Educational Opportunity Program "provides access, academic support, and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college but who may not have otherwise been offered admission."

Students from areas without adequate college counseling can find themselves a step behind. There are many steps that can be overwhelming to a family with a first-generation college student or any student who doesn’t know the process. Their questions may include: What scholarships should I apply for and how do I find them? What is a good essay topic? Can application fees be waived? How do I even apply to college?

The Educational Opportunity Program helps students and their families find their way through it. This year, it also happens to be celebrating its 50th year of success.

The History of EOP

EOP was founded by New York State Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve in 1967. The first EOP class enrolled 249 students at Buffalo State College, right in Assemblyman Eve’s back yard. Since then, EOP has graduated in excess of 60,000 students through its unique combination of admissions criteria as well as rigorous in-class and on-campus support, many of whom continue to live and work in New York State.

The program model has stayed consistent since its founding: Make higher education possible for students who have the potential to succeed, despite poor preparation and limited financial resources. SUNY’s EOPs serve a racially diverse population of hardworking ambitious students, more than half of whom are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

No student should be left behind when opportunity is out there for advancement. In 2014, Robert Farrington wrote an article in Forbes titled "A College Degree Is The New High School Diploma." Farrington’s arguments in favor of higher education tell us that success is ever more dependent on a college education in today’s economy. The Educational Opportunity Program gives economically disadvantaged students a great path to college without the financial burdens that accompany it.

Today, 47 of SUNY's 64 campuses carry on Assemblyman Eve's vision by offering the Educational Opportunity Program to more than 10,000 students each year.

"You stay connected with them (upperclassmen) and are paired with a mentor from day one. That made all the difference."

- Fatoumata Makadji, EOP student

Inside the program

To be admitted into the Educational Opportunity Program, students have to show glimmers of college-readiness, although typically, they have a high school grade point average below 85. A majority of applicants come from homes with annual incomes of $25,000 or less. Some are first-generation college students and/or children of immigrants. But these students demonstrate innate intelligence, curiosity, and a desire for a life beyond what a high school diploma would afford them. In addition, students must be residents of New York State for at least 12 months prior to enrollment, and special admissions consideration may be required. Usually a guidance counselor from high school is contacted. 

The guidelines for admittance may seem strict, but they are needed to keep the program viable and competitive. They have proven to be effective. The 2016 six-year baccalaureate graduation rate for EOP students is 68.99%

EOP admissions teams on each campus review transcripts, test scores, as well as extracurricular activities. Since the programs are so competitive, students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are given priority, but even those not selected for the EOP program can still qualify for regular admission and financial aid options. Academically, students need to demonstrate potential for completing a college-level program under traditional admissions standards. 

Buffalo State College, the birthplace of the Educational Opportunity Program, typically takes 200 new EOP students a year and has about 750 throughout all four classes. The summer academy is three weeks long and is a mandatory program, but free for EOP students. During the year, EOP students have access to the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) for free tutoring service via appointment or drop-in help. Tutoring is available in a variety of disciplines and there is a computer lab for students to use as well.

Ottilie Woodruff, a longtime EOP senior academic adviser, noted, "We’re not holding their hands; we’re coaching them on how to succeed in college."

Every freshman is assigned an upperclass mentor to assist them with things the counselors can’t or the students are afraid to ask. The upperclassmen have five or six students they mentor so it helps the freshmen, but also teaches the upperclassmen responsibility and gives them a chance to lead.

"One of the things I loved about EOP is that you meet 20 upperclassmen right away," said Fatoumata Makadji, an EOP student at Buffalo State who graduated in May 2017. "You stay connected with them and are paired with a mentor from day one. That made all the difference."

Indeed. Makadji consistently made the dean’s list, and this fall she’s entering a graduate program in public administration at American University, one of three master’s programs that accepted her.

The success of all SUNY EOP students is incredible. From the EOP program at Buffalo State, the class of 2017 had a lot of success. The top five graduating seniors include Aariane Estrella who plans on pursuing a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and joining the FBI. Alexia Matos-Mateo, who got her degree in Criminal Justice, was involved in the EOP freshman mentoring program. She became a ROTC MSIV Cadet, and won a 2017 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence. And Edwin Delvalle, an EOP student who earned a 3.90 GPA and made the Dean’s list every semester, is now heading to graduate school.

There are notable alumni from Educational Opportunity Programs all across SUNY, as well as students who say the program saved their lives

EOP is often times a life-changing program that becomes a way of life. Many students come back to the program to teach, mentor, or inspire other students. It lets them know that if they work hard, ask questions, and make the best out of the four years, a world of opportunity is available to them. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners… All of these fields are transformed with the drive and talent of our EOP graduates.

We all know those students who have the drive and the dream to go to college but the financial burden and application process in general is just too overwhelming. This program gives those students the chance and the tools needed to succeed in college. The Educational Opportunity Program has transformed the lives of more than 60,000 students who may not have been able to earn a college degree without the guidance and support of this program. The next star alum could even be someone you know.  

Published July 2017