The University of Rochester will celebrate next week the 25th anniversary of the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which has helped thousands of students traditionally underrepresented in higher education work toward college degrees. On Wednesday, March 16, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Faculty Club on the University's River Campus, there will be a reception for HEOP students, alumni, and staff.
President Dennis O'Brien will receive a founder's plaque, commemorating the 25 years that Rochester has participated in the program. Rochester was a charter institution; today, 78 independent institutions have programs.
HEOP was created in 1969 to ensure that economically and educationally disadvantaged students in New York State would have the same opportunity to earn college degrees that their more privileged peers enjoyed. The program has been so successful that at Rochester and at nine other schools, HEOP students graduate at a higher rate than other students.
Since the program was launched, more than 18,000 young men and women have graduated from the state's independent colleges and universities. About 58,000 students have completed some college courses under the program. At Rochester, 83 percent of HEOP students receive their degrees within five years. [The five-year graduation rate for all University students has hovered around 75 percent in recent years.] Five-year graduation rates for all New York State students who seek bachelor's degrees is about 60% at independent institutions, and about 50% at public institutions.
To be admitted under the HEOP program, a student must be both economically disadvantaged and educationally underprepared. For example, eligibility guidelines for the 92-93 academic year say that household income for a student from a family of four should not be more than $21,050 a year. For a majority of students, they are the first in their families to attend college.
At Rochester, HEOP students attend a five-week summer program during July and August before their freshman year. The program is designed to assist students in developing and strengthening the attitudes, skills, actions, and social connections that characterize successful college students. Model classes in selected areas include math, writing, psychology, and history. There are also workshops on using the University's computing facilities. Students make connections with academic and student support staff and have an opportunity to build friendships with other students and upperclassmen. The commitment of the program is to assist the students in reaching their academic goals.
HEOP student Ken Parker said the summer program "helped me get the feel of college and make some friends before classes began. I had to put in more effort here than in high school. The program helped smooth the way." Parker, of Bason, NY, will graduate this spring with a major in political science.
HEOP began as a matching program between state government and independent colleges. In the early years, New York State was funneling more dollars into HEOP than independent colleges -- $1 to every 75 cents from the colleges, in 1973-74. But over the years, the state's portion of costs has steadily declined, and today, colleges spend twice as much as the state government to maintain the program.
"Every student we admit has real potential," says Phyllis Wade Logan, who oversees the program at Rochester. "Over the years, we've learned how to nurture that potential. I think the steady success of this program speaks for itself."
Brenton Gilbert of the Bronx, an HEOP junior majoring in political science, describes the difference the program has made to him personally in this way: "The HEOP staff give you the sense that they're always there, whether you need them or not. They're a support group."