For students like Matthew Manrique, Southwestern College’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) is critical to his success as a student. Manrique, his mom and brother left Colombia three years ago because of scarce job opportunities and almost no higher education opportunities for folks other than the rich and privileged.
When Manrique, a second-semester biology major, enrolled at Southwestern College he got involved with the EOPS program after a very strong recommendation from another Southwestern College EOPS student: his mother. Manrique’s mom is currently studying culinary arts after her foreign degree wasn’t viable in the United States.
“Things like the book service programs are lifesavers to me and my family,” Manrique said.
Manrique is also an EOPS student worker and said that EOPS has connected him with other opportunities on campus, including the financial aid department’s popular FAFSA Fridays Workshops that have helped him understand a complicated financial aid process.
“This school is like a tree, every branch connects, everyone helps each other,” Manrique said. “There is no reason for a student here to give up, there is so much help. Everyone should take advantage of the opportunities here, especially EOPS.”
Manrique and his mom are just two of the thousands of Southwestern College students who benefit from being a part of EOPS. The statewide program is currently celebrating its 50-year anniversary and was created to help disadvantaged populations to become successful students through services like dedicated counseling, money for books, priority registration and specialized workshops.
“Fifty years ago, we didn’t have tutoring, transfer centers or any of these services that are now institutionalized,” said Omar Orihuela, director of EOPS and special populations. “That’s why EOPS was born, to provide opportunities to students who didn’t have opportunities.”
In 1970, EOPS started in 46 community colleges across California and provided services to 14,000 students. Now, EOPS serves more than 100,000 students throughout every community college in the state.
In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Southwestern College EOPS program, after years of growing, reached 2,395 students, making it the largest EOPS program in California. Orihuela, who has been with EOPS since 2007, said the true success of the program is about quality over quantity.
“The past few years, we’ve been able to grow the program without sacrificing services to our students,” Orihuela said. “This year we increased our book service from $250 to $350. We don’t want to reduce our services to serve more students. We want as robust services as possible to help our students succeed.”
Students who qualify for EOPS are considered socially, economically, academically or language disadvantaged. Students must be enrolled as a full-time student (12 units or more), be a California resident or an AB540 student and qualify for the California Community Colleges Promise Grant (formerly known as BOGW).
“Our students, by definition, have so many disadvantages,” Orihuela said. “How are we going to help them? How are we going to help them navigate higher education and make them perform better than the average student?”
EOPS alumni have transferred to top schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and San Diego State. One SDSU transfer was Ivonne Meza who graduated from SDSU in business administration, and who says EOPS had a monumental impact to her success as a student.
“EOPS creates a culture of success,” Meza said. “It’s more than just the services they offer. It’s an amazing support system that is so full of empowerment and positivity.”
At Southwestern College, Meza was active in the Puente Program, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and served as vice president of finance for the Associated Student Organization. Meza was the keynote student speaker at the EOPS End-of-the-Year Recognition Ceremony in 2017.
“I wasn’t always a perfect student, but they made me feel like an all-star, like I could do anything,” Meza said. “The staff and counselors always shed light on your pathway to success. They always made me feel like I can continue, that I can keep going.”