For many students, the educational gaps that existed before the pandemic—in access, opportunities, achievement, and outcomes—are widening. Fortunately for students in the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY New Paltz, support is on the way.
“The pandemic has created so many academic and personal insecurities among our students,” said Antonio Bonilla ’87 (Spanish) ’05g (Professional Studies), director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). “Many of them are not used to this learning environment and are now facing mental health issues that are difficult to overcome.”
The pandemic’s negative impacts are falling disproportionately on students who went into the COVID-19 era with considerable educational needs and few opportunities, including many from historically marginalized and underserved groups – the very students that EOP seeks to serve.
These disparities are concerning when they interfere with a student’s opportunity to learn and grow.
“While many EOP students have found new ways to continue learning despite the new and evolving challenges during the pandemic, it’s our responsibility to provide them with the access they need to succeed,” said Bonilla.
EOP supports students throughout their college careers by providing access, academic stability and financial aid for those who have strong potential for success in higher education but are limited by financial and educational barriers.
According to Bonilla, total enrollment in the program has been on the decline, mainly because more students are choosing to take a leave of absence or withdraw from college due to pandemic-related pressures.
Efforts are underway to reverse that trend: In April 2021, SUNY received a 20% increase in funding for EOP to support student success, from application to graduation.
“For decades, the [EOP] at SUNY has changed the lives of countless students from across every corner of the state, and we must continue to build upon that legacy of access, opportunity and success for the next generation of students,” Chancellor Malatras said.
But, according to Bonilla and others, there is still a critical need for support beyond tuition assistance alone. Although tuition costs are covered for many EOP students, the average student still has an unmet need of $15,000 per year. EOP students struggle to afford educational necessities such as room, board, transportation and supplies. Many donors aim to increase this fundamental non-tuition support.
At New Paltz, an anonymous donor has decided to step in, offering EOP a major gift opportunity through a Matching Gift Challenge. If the program can raise at least $50,000 by Dec. 31, 2021, this donor will match up to $50,000 to create an endowed fund for students’ non-tuition educational expenses.
The entire campus community is coming together to make this challenge a success. Bonilla says, many EOP and non-EOP alums have stepped up and answered the call.
“With the community’s support we can enhance the resources available to EOP students,” said Bonilla. “And at the end of the day, that’s why we are all here, to improve learning outcomes and see our EOP students succeed despite today’s unique challenges.”