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The Opportunity Revolution: Celebrating the EOP's 50th Anniversary

Christianne Salvador

The CSU’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) revolutionized higher education. What began as a pursuit of social justice continues to shape academia 50 years later.

students at university commencement ceremony
 

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​CSU Trustee Silas Abrego faced a large room of administrators, students, faculty and alumni as he recalled the tumultuous history of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

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CSU Trustee Silas Abrego keynotes the EOP 50th Anniversary Conference.
Photo courtesy of CSU Educational Opportunity Program.

​​“I suppose I'm being a bit nostalgic," said Abrego at the EOP's 50th Anniversary Conference. “But truly, EOP is here because of all of these courageous leaders who were willing to sacrifice, and who were determined to throw open—and keep open—the doors to a college education for generations of historically underserved students."​

For 50 years, the EOP has provided admission, counseling and financial support services to underserved students throughout California. Its alumni include doctors, engineers, lawyers and elected government officials who came from low-income or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

The CSU EOP's 50th anniversary was a celebration of students who shaped California's history through activism and social justice. The theme of the September 9, 2019 gala, Changing Lives through Continuous Innovation, observed those who made access to higher education a reality and recognized those who continue this movement into the future.​​​​

A product of t​he civil rights movement​

​​"The sixties were a turbulent time. A time of war, a time when a new generation of advocates for social justice challenged the status quo to confront our nation's inequities, a time that saw the convergence and culmination of the U.S. civil rights movement."​​

Silas Abrego, CSU Trustee and former student president of United Mexican American Students (UMAS) at CSULB in 1968
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As the civil rights movement of the 1960s intensified across the nation, one of the emerging issues was the lack of equal access to higher education. College students and community activists protested to desegregate educational institutions and increase minority representation on campuses.​​

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The Free Speech area at Cal State LA in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of 
Pictures of Our Past, Cal State LA, John F. Kennedy Memorial Library 
Special Collections and Archives.​

At California State University, Los Angeles, Latinx and African American students formed the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) and the Black Student Union (BSU) to push for greater enrollment of minorities and socially disadvantaged students. These organizations led student protests, which resulted in Cal State LA extending its special admit designation to underrepresented students. (The special admit designation was a policy for admitting two percent of first-time freshmen who did not meet all university requirements.)

In 1967, the EOP was founded at several CSU campuses, utilizing the special admits for minority students who would otherwise be denied entrance to the university. Early successes in recruiting and retaining students drove the passing of Senate Bill 1072 (The Harmer Bill) in 1969, which officially established the EOP as a state-funded program. The bill institutionalized the EOP at all CSU campuses and required support services for students.

See a timeline of the EOP's 50-year history

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​Revolutionizing higher education​

"The program changed the enti​re environment of the university just by its presence and sensitivity to minorities. EOP was the incubator for all similar programs across the nation, [and the CSU] became the mold for other states."

—​Dr. Bert Rivas, former educational opportunity coordin​ator at the CSU ​Chancellor's Office


The EOP bolsters student achievement by providing ongoing advising, tutoring and workshops beginning on the student's first day on campus until they graduate. Each student is assigned a counselor to help them overcome challenges and keep them on track to completing their degree. EOP grants are also available for students in need of financial support.​

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​The EOP provides students with one-on-one mentorship to improve
their academic success. ​Photo courtesy of Educational Opportunity
Program at Fresno State.​

Other universities have since implemented the groundbreaking program, and the EOP now exists on college campuses across the U.S., from the University of Washington to the State University of New York (SUNY). ​

Cal State LA English professor Margaret Hart authored a 2016 book about EOP's history, titled “Educating the Excluded: What Led to the Mandate for Educational Opportunity at California State University." The book includes an interview with Bert Rivas, Ph.D., educational opportunity coordinator at the CSU Chancellor's Office from 1973 to 1992. Dr. Rivas described the philosophy that sparked wide​spread support for underserved students: “EOP recognized students had all kinds of potential; they just needed a bit of a nudge and assistance. Before EOP, there was no one to give them a nudge to reach their potential."​

Informing Graduation Initiative 2025

Today, the CSU's student body is the most ethnically, economically and academically diverse in the nation. More than half of the 480,000 enrolled are students of color, and one-third of all undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college. In the 2018-19 school year, more than 32,000 CSU students participated in the EOP.​

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The EOP's student-centered approach has resulted in hundreds of thousands of students completing a college degree at the CSU. Systemwide data also indicate that EOP students, which include first-generation, undocumented, former foster youth and students from low-income backgrounds, graduate at a higher rate than their non-EOP peers. For the fall 2012 cohort, 58 percent of EOP students graduated within six years, or by 2018, compared to 56 percent of Pell recipients and 55 percent of students from underrepresented communities.

Given the EOP's successes in increasing graduation rates and eliminating equity gaps, its student services have become models for campus efforts supporting Graduation Initiative 2025. Many of the EOP's initiatives—including holistic advising and summer bridge programs—have been scaled up to reach additional student populations. By building on the EOP's successes, all 23 CSU campuses continue to make strides toward achieving their Graduation Initiative 2025 goals.  

Learn more about the EOP's services