The challenge of any university is to provide an environment where opportunities for diversity and new learning experiences can flourish.
Since 1968, one such program has existed at the University of Houston.
The High School Equivalency Program has helped young men and women achieve educational goals that would have otherwise been extremely difficult due to laboring in migrant farming or having to drop out of school early to help support the family income.
The goal of the program is to provide students 17 or older with an opportunity to obtain their General Educational Diplomas in English or Spanish.
The HEP is housed in the University of Houston's College of Education. For more than 30 years the program has successfully graduated 70 percent of its students a year. "Several of our students have gone on to college and technical schools, or have joined the armed forces (after earning their GEDs)," said director Kobla Osayande (press release).
Many students learn about the program through word of mouth or through a high school counselor who fears that a student may be at risk of dropping out of school, Osayande said.
John Garcia, a 1994 graduate, is among the HEP's successful alumni. Garcia, who dropped out of high school at age 17, was introduced to the program by his sister.
"I regret dropping out at such an early age, but I don't regret my participation in the High School Equivalency Program. I recommend students to try the program. Osayande was a big help to me, and I probably wouldn't be where I am now without the dedication of Mr. Osayande and the staff at U of H."
After graduating from the program, Garcia attended a technical school for mechanical electrical design and is currently working in that field.
Martha Vella, a 1988 graduate of the program said, "I dropped out of school in the 10th grade to help my parents financially. I had an excellent experience (in the HEP) and I learned a great deal from the program."
Vella is currently working in the accounts payable department for Harris County, and is hoping to join the sheriff's department in the future.
The program consists of four 10 week sessions which begin around the first of October and end before the Christmas break. It also offers sessions beginning around Jan 5 that usually last until Spring Break.
Students attend classes from 9:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and are taught subjects from writing to literature, social studies, science and life skills.
Students are also supplied with bus tickets, meals and a stipend of twenty dollars a week.
The HEP, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, faced a major cut in funding in 1994. The cut forced the program to accept only students from the surrounding Houston area rather than statewide.
Since the rural areas affected by the cut have more families with migrant farm workers and children who drop out of school to work at home than the Houston area does, enrollment in the program has decreased each year.
"(For the last four years) our funding stays the same, but prices are going up, we have to try to find funding from other sources," says Osayande.
Despite the cuts, the program remains a viable alternative for those students who have dropped out to continue their education. The program is looking for qualified students who are eager to learn and succeed, Osayande added.
For more information on the HEP program at UH, please contact Kobla Osayande at (713) 743-4988.