AOP students fight program's proposed budget decrease in Albany

Members of Geneseo’s Access Opportunities Programs were scheduled to visit Albany in early February as part of Advocacy Day to fight against a proposed statewide budget cut to the Educational Opportunity Program section of AOP. The EOP is a state-funded program that helps students on the cusp of making the academic requirements of the college to succeed.

Due to inclement weather conditions, however, the 42 students scheduled to attend and advisor interim Director of Access Opportunities Programs Gabriel Iturbides weren’t able to attend.

“This year we heard that the budget coming from [New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo––for EOP specifically––was going to be decreased by $1.3 million,” he said.

Iturbides added that hearing this prompted a strong desire in students to fight against the proposed budget decrease, citing the program’s success as a reason.

“I think the big reason is that this is statewide, the graduation rate of students in programs like this is typically higher than it is for general admission,” Iturbides said.

With this in mind, Geneseo students and Iturbides have attended the Advocacy Day event each year for the past seven years, with the exception of this year and a year prior due to weather related issues.

“Back in 2008, the economy was really taking a downturn,” Iturbides said. “We started to realize that we need to fight for the money so that our program would continue to exist and so it could potentially open up the program to more students and help them more financially.”

According to Iturbides, the budget has either slightly increased or remained the same over the last three years. Although weather did not permit travel to Albany, members of AOP still have plans on advocating against the budget decrease and participating in the statewide discussion by writing lobby letters.

“A lot of the students on the bus asked, ‘How do we make a difference? What can we do to continue this?’” Iturbides said.

This student interest prompted Iturbides to contact his predecessor Calvin Gantt, who aided him in the lobby letter writing process.

“Actually the gentleman who I replaced––Calvin Gantt, his department down at SUNY Binghamton [and Geneseo are] fighting for the same things, so he said one of the things [they’re] doing—which was established before I arrived here—was these lobby letters,” he said. “[Gantt] sent me a similar template and what I’m doing is updating it, so it’s accommodating for us and then having the students put in their piece and then mailing it out to Albany.”

“It’s students who are strong students, but are just under the requirements,” Iturbides said. “So general admission said that maybe with a little push from us and a little guidance and tutoring––which we provide––maybe they’ll kick it into high gear.”

With this in mind, Iturbides said that he feels there are numerous reasons why this program shouldn’t lose any funding.

“Number one; going from a political standpoint, a lot of these people coming into this program are people who are coming from lower-income situations where they’re not going to have another change to really excel or really getting into a college like this,” he said.

“Number two; we’re graduating future taxpayers––the students who will one day become employees and paying taxes back to the state. The more successful they are, the better it looks for the state. Number three; more importantly, I think it’s important for my department to show students that in order to get what you really want, you have to go out and fight for it.”