A freeway commute of 20 miles before 8 a.m. and working sometimes until 10 p.m. six days a week is the plight of an engineering student who has had his funds cut from the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) due to the California budget crisis.
Nineteen-year-old Ernesto Ruiz’s life dramatically changed this semester. As an EOP student, Ernesto lived in the CSUN dorms, which allowed him the ability to easily study on campus. With California budget cuts, he could no longer afford to live in the dorms and had to move back home with his parents, some 20 miles away in Koreatown.
Because his funds were cut, he was also disenrolled from some of his classes. During the beginning of the semester, he drove to school before 8 a.m. every day to try and add classes to his schedule.
There are more than 3,000 EOP students in similar situations at CSUN.
Nani Chin, a fellow EOP student, said an EOP recruiter came to Los Angeles High School during her senior year. He told her the benefits of EOP and how it helped students who were the first in their families to go to college.
“We were both interested and so were many of our friends,” she said. “It was really a good program. They gave us a lot of support on campus, not just financially, but academically and socially as well. Then suddenly, the checks stopped coming in or came at a reduced rate, with hardly any explanation.”
Professor Glenn Omatsu, coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program, said many EOP students enter the program with little knowledge of how to study or actively attend school.
“Mentors try and keep the students on track academically as well as socially,” Omatsu said.
Omatsu explained that EOP puts an emphasis on access and retention and the Bridge program is about motivating students as they begin to take on college.
“The regular campus has a graduation rate of 77 percent. The EOP program has a graduation rate of 85 to 89 percent,” he said. “The Bridge classes are 25 to 27 students, and there are 125 Bridge classes every year. We emphasize skills less and motivation more. We try to integrate academics and student services. Sometimes post-EOP students become mentors.”
EOP is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“It was started from the ground up by the students. It was not started by the administration and passed down,” Omatsu said.
Omatsu said he is discouraged for the future because 80 percent of students used to receive scholarships and 20 percent received loans. Today, it’s 80 percent loans and 20 percent scholarships.