Some high school seniors are academically well prepared to attend college. Others are woefully underprepared but demonstrate promise. So where do these underprepared students turn to earn a college degree and make their contribution to society?
In 1967, Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York, established its Educational Opportunity Program to provide college access to students inadmissible through the traditional admissions process, and to increase the school’s retention rate. During the ensuing 43 years, the program has graduated more than 55,000 students and boasts an 84.5 percent first-year retention rate, which outranks the national public average by 11.5 percent.
Randall Marie-Jacques Edouard, director of Binghamton’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), says that students are coming to college underprepared. “We believe that high schools just don’t seem to be in concert with the colleges and universities with regard to adequate preparation for college- and university-level writing,” he says.
Binghamton University offers its EOP to fulltime students who are New York state residents and meet both academic and income requirements for program consideration. EOP candidates must be ineligible for admission under traditional standards, but demonstrate potential for completing a college program and be in need of financial assistance, within established income guidelines. Binghamton gives priority to applicants from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The goal of Binghamton’s EOP is to help students develop reading, writing and mathematical skills, not for the sake of those skills alone, but to combine them as more general critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they can apply to their freshman coursework and beyond, and to broader social situations and issues as well.
EOP also helps students develop general skills and academic work habits and helps them form a connection with EOP as a community and a resource on which they can rely. The program helps students in subsequent semesters by promoting greater EOP student achievement in majors and programs of first choice, especially those programs involving math proficiency. Lastly, the EOP encourages students to pursue graduate or professional studies and, toward that end, promotes greater EOP student achievement in the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT and other tests.
EOP works closely with Binghamton’s admissions to ensure that the entire student is evaluated, not just the test scores, because, according to Edouard, scores alone are not a great predictor of overall success in college.
“We have found that other experiences that may have both occurred personally and academically, as well as extracurricular activities and leadership experiences, tell us much more about a student’s drive, self-determination, ambition and ultimately their overall potential to succeed,” says Edouard.
All students who enroll at Binghamton through EOP must attend Binghamton’s Enrichment Program, a four-week summer program often referred to by students and faculty as Academic Boot Camp, and for good reason. Once on campus, students in the enrichment program cannot receive visitors or leave the campus, even on weekends, and must obey a Sunday through Saturday curfew of 12:01 a.m. Edouard says that the operative word in the program is “academic.”
“The program’s fundamental purpose is to instill academic discipline within all of its students,” he says. He made the program mandatory because “we, as a program, admit the ‘nontraditional’ student; this is a student who is deemed both economically disadvantaged and academically disadvantaged. Our students, because of their financial backgrounds, cannot afford to pay for college; they also fall slightly below the academic criteria needed to attend Binghamton through traditional admission.” Edouard contends that it is critical for EOP students to prepare themselves, during its academic boot camp, for the academic rigors of an institution like Binghamton.
“This essentially gives us only four weeks to level the academic and social playing field and prepare underprepared students to be successful at an academically great institution known as Binghamton University. This is why we make it mandatory for our students; we do it for the sake of their overall success,” says Edouard.
While in the Binghamton Enrichment Program students are required to take mathematics, writing, and a chosen career track course, which is a course taught by representatives from given schools at the university. “This is designed to give our students, during the summer program, an academic taste and/or experience of being in a desired discipline. This allows students to make better decisions about their academic careers for the future. So our students are required to take three courses during our Binghamton Enrichment Program,” says Edouard.
Writing Course Most Critical
According to Edouard, of all the courses students can take during the enrichment program, the writing course is by far the most critical. And because of its importance, Edouard has made it a requirement. Edouard believes that writing is the important tool that college students will use overwhelmingly in the majority of courses at any institution of higher learning, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Edouard contends that when students have confidence in their writing skills, that confidence spills over into other disciplines. “We also believe that in every discipline, one must be able to express in writing whatever is desired to be expressed about a given discipline. We believe that education seldom occurs without such communication in our academic culture,” he says.
Binghamton’s writing course, which is called Seeing and Writing the World: Observing, Exploring and Analyzing, is a four-credit course designed to develop writers’ ability to observe, discover topics and develop material – thus to explore, interpret, analyze and express their experiences.
Through a variety of narrative and expository papers, students develop fluency, distinguish form and genre, and build upon a base of exploratory writing, with an emphasis on drafting and revision. The students’ writing is assessed using portfolio grading.
This past fall, students continued the endeavors of observing, exploring and analyzing the world in writing that they started during the summer – by engaging in a regime of rigorous writing classes that will last the entire school year.
From the feedback Edouard receives from students and course professors about these endeavors, “Things are going very well. As far as leveling the playing field, I believe that our EOP students are getting a lot of writing – and we believe the only way that a student becomes a better writer is by writing. Based on that, although it’s much too early to know for sure, there is great reason to believe that the playing field is being leveled,” says Edouard.
To aid in their development as college students, each EOP student is assigned a professional academic advisor or counselor and a peer counselor, both interested in the personal growth, goals and overall academic success of the student.
EOP’s academic counselors serve as academic advisors, counselors and mentors throughout each student’s enrollment at the university. Students are usually assigned to a specific academic counselor based on their areas of interest and intended majors. The student and the academic counselor then work together to achieve the academic and personal goals set from the beginning of their relationship. The peer counselor is assigned to be a mentor to the pre-freshman student specifically during the Binghamton Enrichment Program.
Keeping with the “boot camp” theme, students are not allowed to bring with them any items that may become a distraction to achieving the overall goal of the Binghamton Enrichment Program, which is to adequately prepare the students to be successful at Binghamton University. “We only have four weeks to prepare our students, which we believe is a tumultuous task. As a result, we need to maximize every second, minute, hour, day and week that we have with our students.”
And on the weekends, the discipline continues. The EOP’s rigorous schedule is designed to teach students time management, and it stresses the importance of having an appropriate balance between social life and academic life in a campus setting. “It is a fact that if our students do not combat distractions appropriately, they are invariably not successful.
Therefore, we do not allow students to have cell phones in their possession during our summer boot camp. This is in an effort to teach our students that there will be times when they need to focus on academics and will need to put the cell phone away or turn it off, on occasion, in order to pay undivided attention to their academics,” says Edouard. When they are forced to go without their cell phones, students soon come to realize, says Edouard, that contrary to the belief of much of today’s youth, they will not “die” if they cannot talk, text or send and receive e-mails for any period of time.
To keep the enrichment program’s freshmen safe, no student is allowed to go off campus at any time without a professional staff member. “This is done to maximize the probability that our students will be safe during their stay with us in our summer program. We do not allow students to bring cars on campus for both reasons. We don’t want our students to be distracted, and we want our students to be safe. We believe that having students possibly joy riding in each other’s vehicles presents unforeseen danger that is avoided with our regulation. We are very student- oriented, and we believe that we must look out for our student’s best interests by any means necessary within the realm of reason,” says Edouard.
As part of the EOP admission process, the student’s high school record and test scores (if required) are reviewed, as well as information about clubs, hobbies, jobs and any other experiences that made an impact on a student’s education. This information helps college counselors evaluate the student’s potential for success in a college program.
EOP students may receive support services, such as academic, career and personal counseling, as well as tutoring and supplemental instruction. As part of a student’s overall financial aid package, EOP provides financial assistance for nontuition-related expenses such as books and supplies.
Students are eligible for EOP as a transfer student provided they have been enrolled in EOP, College Discovery, Higher Education Opportunity Program, Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge or any similar academic and financial support program at another college. If a student’s previous college did not offer an EOP or a similar program, a transfer student still may be considered for transfer eligibility.