Story by Lee Bosch
California’s Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS) has helped college students since 1969. It levels the playing field for economically, academically and language-disadvantaged students, as long as they maintain their grades and attend required appointments with EOPS counselors.
EOPS has been kind to students, but many have not reciprocated. Too many are gaming the system.
EOPS students at Southwestern College, along with many other state community colleges, are not required to purchase books specific to their classes. A student with four classes, for instance, may only need two books and spend just $120 of his EOPS allotment. Unspent money stays with EOPS unless the student decides to purchase more books, say for a friend or to resell for a profit. Students caught committing fraud are subject to termination from the program. Catching a student is difficult.
Colleges should protect EOPS funds by archiving students’ schedules in a computer system at the campus bookstore. Students would only be able to use EOPS money to buy books required for classes. Some colleges issue book vouchers for required texts that EOPS funds can purchase.
Permitting EOPS money to be used for book rentals would also save taxpayer money. Rented books cost significantly less than used ones and a fraction of new texts. A downfall is that a credit card or debit card number must be held at the bookstore in order to replace any stolen books. Not every student may be able to supply that. This issue is resolved if EOPS can cover replacement fees and disqualify any student who fails to return a book.
Individualizing EOPS money to majors would help cover these necessities. If an art student has $100 remaining on an EOPS account, a voucher for art supplies would be beneficial. With less than $70 an art student can purchase a complete brush set, five acrylic paints, a medium-sized sketchbook or canvases. Aspiring architecture majors require a $38 book (used) but the architecture kit costs $73. If the goal of EOPS is student success, it makes sense to apportion funds for required materials.
Money for EOPS is allotted to community colleges through a grant by the state. Book allocations depend on the size of the grant. EOPS students at SWC may receive $275 one semester and $210 the next.
EOPS students are required to meet with a counselor three times per semester. Appointment number one is a review of the Student Education Plan. EOPS can create a form where, during the first appointment, a student can sign off for the allocation of 10, 15 or 20 percent of their EOPS money to be used for school supplies at the bookstore.
If EOPS were to receive $500,000 to divide among 2,000 students next semester, each student would receive $250 for books. If a student decided to allocate 10 percent of her money for school supplies, she would have $25. At 15 percent she would have $37.50 and at 20 percent she would have $50.
While that may not be enough for an architecture kit, it significantly subsidizes the cost. For an art student, the funds can be a safety net for replacement of broken materials or stocking up on acrylic paints. Students could also purchase Scantrons, writing materials and a planner.
EOPS does great things for students, now it is time to optimize the system’s performance.