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Feb. 29, 2016

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Opportunity Program Advocacy Day a success


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Click here to view the Opportunity Program Advocacy Day video

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students from SUNY’s academic opportunity programs made impassioned demands to legislators for adequate funding in the upcoming state budget Feb. 29 as part of UUP’s annual Opportunity Program Advocacy Day.

The winning combination worked again. Over and over, lawmakers, like Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud (D-Brooklyn), above, right, pledged to delegations from campuses around the state that they would press hard to help SUNY get the $15 million increase UUP seeks for the University’s Educational Opportunity Program and Educational Opportunity Centers.

The presence of so many students telling their stories “makes an unbelievable difference in the hearts and minds of legislators,” UUP President Fred Kowal, below, told students during a packed pre-advocacy meeting outside of the Legislative Office Building. The meeting had a pep-rally atmosphere as students huddled with their EOP and EOC counselors for pointers on how best to make an impression in a precious few minutes with a lawmaker or legislative staffer.

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Throughout the room, students proudly flaunted T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with their campus name and, often, a motto specific to their EOP—such as SUNY Farmingdale’s EOP rallying cry to “Inspire, Imagine, Ignite.” Many of the students boarded buses well before daybreak to make the trip to Albany.

SUNY’s EOP for low-income students from underserved populations, and the University’s EOCs, which offer job training and college preparation for students who do not seek or don’t feel ready for a traditional four-year college program, have gained national recognition as success stories with high retention rates and strong placement rates in careers and graduate school.

That’s all the more impressive, considering that both programs have operated on flat funding for more than two decades—a financial strain that has forced SUNY to dramatically pull back on admissions. Typically, 30,000 students compete for 2,500 EOP slots system-wide. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a nearly $5 million cut to EOP. UUP rallied its members and students, lawmakers listened, and the cut was restored in the enacted budget.

Even in the face of such tight financing, the success stories are real—which begs the question of how many other students would excel if given the chance through EOP and EOC, as the UUP delegations noted time and again in legislative meetings.

Included in the advocacy meetings were Devohne Moore, a Farmingdale freshman who dropped out of the private college he could no longer afford. He credits the EOP program with rescuing his chance for a college degree. Shaofang Mao, who emigrated from her native China to New York in 2009 barely speaking English, is now in an EOC college preparatory program at Binghamton University.

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Lawmakers struck a receptive tone, and several spent extra time with the students. The delegation from SUNY Fredonia—led by EOP Director David White, and included students Jayla Williams, Natselyne Peralta and Kalif Crutcher—got a quick tour of the Senate floor with Buffalo Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), and an off-the-floor meeting with Sen. Catharine Young (R-Olean), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Above, Crutcher shakes hands with Kennedy.

Young and Kennedy were two in a long list of lawmakers who said they were deeply impressed by the students, and deeply committed to supporting SUNY’s academic opportunity programs.

“You’re doing such a great job,” Young said of the Fredonia delegation’s advocacy. “We’re just very thrilled that you’re here.”

UUP members will return to Albany for additional advocacy days throughout the session. Click here to sign up or for more information.


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