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Syracuse University Students Lobby in Albany for Continued HEOP Funding
The Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) offers economically and educationally disadvantaged individuals a chance to transform their lives through education. The program provides access to a Syracuse University degree for students from New York State. University College is the only college in New York State that provides HEOP funding for part-time students.
In February, 25 Syracuse University students traveled to Albany to lobby legislators for continued funding to part-time and full-time students. Leondra Tyler is a part-time student working on an associate’s degree in the College of Arts and Sciences through University College. She heard about the HEOP program while attending a BOCES high-school equivalency program. Tyler said she chose to study part-time because as an adult student, she has other obligations and priorities in her life.
Tyler, who works full time and struggles with medical issues, wanted to take her time earning a degree in order to ensure that she can maintain her high academic standing. “In my adolescence, I got sick and was unable to finish high school,” she explains. She completed her high school equivalency exam and her high score gave her the confidence to apply to Syracuse University through the HEOP program. “I felt like everything I went through was worth it because one of my biggest aspirations and dreams of attending SU came true.”
Tyler has been on the dean’s list for the past two semesters and plans to do psychological qualitative research at the end of her academic career. “I want to develop new behavioral therapy for children and teens that doesn’t involve the use of medications,” she explains.
Gurudev Dhimal is a sophomore majoring in cybersecurity administration through University College. Like Tyler, he is also a dean’s list student and credits the HEOP program for helping him maintain his 3.5 grade point average. “The HEOP staff always assists students in helping them achieve their goals,” says Dhimal. “They are friendly and welcoming, and advocate for us.”
Marsha Senior, director of the HEOP program at University College, says that despite the many challenges HEOP students face, they are ambitious and determined. “Sometimes, students face obstacles and life tends to get in their way, which often makes their road to education a slow and winding process,” she says. “Unlike full-time students who can devote the time and energy while taking a full complement of classes each semester, part-time HEOP students must juggle multiple things while attempting to complete their degree.” Senior says that their appreciation of the financial assistance they receive motivates them to travel to Albany to tell their story to state legislators. “They return with a deeper understanding of how our government operates.”
Both Tyler and Dhimal say that attending Lobby Day was not what they expected, but was an interesting and informative experience. “It was really motivating to see how many students from across the state were in attendance—telling their stories about how much they appreciate the opportunity to attend college due to the financial assistance provided through HEOP,” says Tyler. “Without this funding, many of us would not be able to afford the expenses that come with receiving a college education.”
“I learned a lot about financial aid that I wasn’t aware of,” adds Dhimal. “The trip was great. But talking with senators and assemblymen was a bit nerve-wracking. As a group, we were able to talk about our experiences as we advocated for an increase in financial aid.”
“I want our legislators to know that HEOP funding is an amazing investment,” says Tyler. “Students in the HEOP program aspire to be social workers, doctors, researchers, cybersecurity analysts, engineers and more. After they graduate, they will leave college doing amazing things that will benefit our community.”
“As New York State assemblyman Michael Burke said, ‘Your zip code does not determine your destiny,”’ explains Tyler. “HEOP students may not be able to afford college without assistance, but education cannot afford to lose the influence and culture we bring to campus.”
The Higher Education Opportunity Program was established in 1969 by the New York State Legislature to provide access to independent colleges and universities for economically and educationally disadvantaged students from New York State. In 2006, the name was changed to recognize the important role Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve played in obtaining the original funding for the program. Eve served in the New York State Assembly longer than any other incumbent member and became known for creating opportunities for minorities and low-income people to have access to college.