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EDUCATION–College Program Bolstering San Diego Work Force

Now he’s a manager in the city’s water department, but about 20 years ago, Vic Bianes embarked on a journey that few in his neighborhood, and none in his family, had ever accomplished , graduating from college.

Bianes gives a large part of the credit to the Educational Opportunity Program at San Diego State University.

“EOP gave me the support groups, the mentoring, and the counseling to obtain the skills and tools to succeed,” Bianes said. “My first two years (at SDSU) were very difficult and (EOP) definitely helped me out.”

The state program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary at SDSU by calling attention to the concrete benefits it has made in many lives.

Specifically, since the program’s inception in 1969, about 22,000 students have been accepted into the program. And while the graduation rate of 28 percent isn’t overwhelming, it’s about the same rate as the entire university, said Gus Chavez, EOP’s director.

“You have to remember these are students who normally wouldn’t even think of going to college,” Chavez said.

On the upside, many of those who did graduate went on to obtain advanced degrees.

Bianes, who graduated with a bachelor of science in civil engineering degree in 1985, also has a master’s degree in business administration.

Although EOP offers financial assistance to participants, the primary benefit is in providing counseling and tutoring to students who have academic potential, but come from low income families and less than stellar academic backgrounds.

For many of the EOP students, going to college seems like a distant dream because so few of their peers and neighbors have done that, Chavez said.

Evangeline Castle, associate director of SDSU’s program, said getting accepted to a university isn’t enough. The goal is to help as many as possible get their degree.

“Traditionally, ‘low income’ has been synonymous with underserved youth. Being admitted to the university is just the beginning of a process requiring emotional support and connectivity, academic tutoring and a place to feel valued and supported,” Castle said.

That was certainly true for Bianes, who said having mentors and counselors that came from similar backgrounds and circumstances helped him tremendously.

As a way of returning the favor for that support, Bianes took part in a “bridge program,” returning to his own high school and other local schools, telling students of the benefits of getting a college degree and how they could do that.

SDSU’s program is the fourth largest among 22 California state universities, serving about 3,200 students annually.

The program’s operating budget is about $500,000, and the average annual grants made total about $1.5 million, Chavez said.

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