Over $5 million from the New York State Educational Opportunity Program’s funding has been cut in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s current budget plan.
EOPs are state-run programs that provide higher education opportunities to students who have faced adversity while in high school, influencing their academic performance. SUNY’s EOP program specifically focuses on helping residents of New York State—who have not necessarily satisfied all of the general admission requirements due to various economic circumstances—earn a degree from one of its institutions.
Services provided by Geneseo’s EOP department include available counselors, stipends to help pay for textbooks, summer programs to acclimate students to the college and available tutorial programs. Geneseo currently has 163 students participating in its EOP.
SUNY Student Assembly Director of Legislative Affairs Rey Muniz III, who works to create connections between the Student Assembly and government officials, said in a phone interview that he believes funding will be restored to EOP during budget negotiations with the Governor’s Office, the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate. Muniz said the Governor’s Office cut EOP funding as a leverage technique to be used when negotiating with these legislative bodies.
“I think that the governor has every expectation that the legislature will restore those funds, and I hope add funds to the overall EOP program,” Muniz said. “What, in particular, those funds are designed to leverage could be any sort of thing.”
Assistant Director for Geneseo’s Access Opportunities Programs Gabriel Iturbides said in a phone interview that students in EOP and those who work for EOP have had to consistently fight for funding to be restored. Iturbides said that this year Geneseo hopes to bring 45-50 students to Albany to speak with legislatures who support and do not support increased funding for EOP.
“We feel pretty confident that it will be raised a little bit,” Iturbides said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, who has been probably the biggest supporter of our program as of late … it’s a program I know he holds close to his heart.”
In a public statement provided in an email, Heastie states that EOP is one of his priorities because it has allowed talented students to pursue a college education and to join the middle class.
“It is essential that we maintain our historic investments in opportunity programs so that everyone who wants to go to college has the chance to do so,” Heastie said.
Student Association President senior Michael Baranowski expressed concern about the impact such cuts will have on the college if funds are not restored.
“The program itself provides a lotof for students who have been disadvantaged throughout high school,” Baranowski said. “To take it away means that some people are not going to have opportunities to come to Geneseo anymore and that’s not something that the state should be interested in.”
Iturbides said he will continue to fight for increased funding for EOP because the program enhances the college campus and the state, as students who become successful often remain in New York State and become tax payers themselves.
Muniz echoed this sentiment and explained that the Student Assembly will also continue to advocate for funding for EOP because of the opportunities it provides for accomplished students.
“Not only are these folks coming from at-risk situations at home, not only are these people generally individuals who would not have been able to afford higher education otherwise, but they’re graduating at higher rates than their peers and their GPAs are higher on average than their peers,” Muniz said. “This program helps a group of folks who really need it and we absolutely are going to do everything we can to ensure that we not only see a restoration of the program, but that we see an overall increase in funding.”