November 30, 2021

Opening doors

Equal Opportunity Program helps some attend college

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, right, takes a tour Thursday of the SUNY Cortland Student Life Center. Among the students she met with were, from left, Jabreel Harrell, Makense Garcia and Hector Gonzalez.

In 2018, 35 SUNY Cortland freshmen enrolled in the Educational Opportunities Program, which gives students, who may not meet requirements to attend SUNY, a chance at an education.

The program, which is nearly a half-century old, was one topic of discussion Thursday as SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson visited the college, her first to the campus since taking the position in 2017.

During the tour, Jabreel Harrell, an economics major in the program, spoke with Johnson on a list of suggestions on how she can improve on the job. “She was genuine with what she asked,” he said.

Harrell said he suggested further support in the Educational Opportunity Program.

“We are advocating pretty strongly for that program,” Johnson said. She wants to double enrollment in the Educational Opportunity Program, across the whole SUNY system. More than 3,100 freshmen were enrolled in it, statewide, last fall.

SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum takes SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, right, on a tour Thursday of the SUNY Cortland Student Life Center.

The principal mission of the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY Cortland is to provide access and support to students with strong academic and personal potential — students who would otherwise be excluded from higher education due to academic struggles and economic disadvantage, according to the college.

Eligible students must:
• Be a New York state resident for 12 months before enrollment.
• Require special admissions consideration.
• Qualify as economically disadvantaged.

Johnson spoke with students while touring the campus’ Student Life Center. Stops along the tour included the Outdoor Pursuits department, an indoor cycling center, golf simulators, climbing walls and a yoga studio.

For Harrell and two others in the program — Makense Garcia and Hector Gonzalez — the Educational Opportunity Program opened a door they couldn’t. “I don’t know where I’d be,” Gonzalez said.

Garcia, a criminology major and political science minor, sees Johnson’s visit as a way for the state representative to get a firsthand look at the struggles and achievements students in the program have gone through.

Johnson is visiting all 64 SUNY campuses to look at the distinction between the campuses as well as finding out how the students, faculty and institutions are supported through the state.

“I think it’s more than a listening tour, it’s really an engaging tour,” she said; the conversations were important. Meeting and talking to students was one highlight from the trip, Johnson said. “What’s fun is to see first year students through seniors,” she said.