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The Impact of Loss of
Academic Enrichment Programs

by Doug Brugge
Boston, Massachusetts

For the first time since 1987, there was no request this year for proposals for the Health Careers Opportunities Program (HCOP). Currently over 80 federally funded HCOPs provide academic enrichment for thousands of economically and educationally disadvantaged students each year across the United States. It is apparently one of the 141 programs that President Bush and Congress consider to be “ineffective.”

For the last 7 years, I have directed an HCOP that is a collaboration of Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston HCOP. Maybe from Washington, not knowing the students involved, you can call HCOP “ineffective.” But from where I sit, seeing them on a regular basis, the label is clearly wrong. Because the public rarely has an opportunity to look in the eyes of the students affected by Washington’s decision making, I would like to introduce you to one of our students.

Meet Tiffany Groover. Tiffany attended the Boston Public Schools and while there joined her first HCOP program, one that was run by Bunker Hill Community College. She recalls her first day, “I was given a binder whose cover read ‘Health Careers Opportunity Program.’ As I left for the train that afternoon … I was reluctant to place the binder in my bag. I was proud to be a member of HCOP, I was enthused about the opportunity and I wanted everyone to know it.”

When it came time for Tiffany to attend college, she decided to come to Tufts specifically because it also had an HCOP program. She was aware that her high school preparation meant that she had to play catch up with classmates if she was going to reach her goal of becoming a doctor.

At Tufts, we hired a recent graduate to work as a mentor and tutor with students in their introductory biology, chemistry, and physics classes. Tiffany was always at her tutoring sessions. Given some weaknesses in her academic background, Tiffany’s aim of attending medical school seemed like a long shot to many, but Tiffany’s amazing optimism and work ethic won her a solid cheering section.

After graduating from Tufts, Tiffany took a year out from her plan to apply to medical school to obtain a master’s in public health from Tufts. Once again our HCOP program was there if she needed it, although she excelled in the graduate program largely without assistance, even in a biostatistics course that many of our students find challenging.

In her spare time she taught biology and public health in our summer academic program for middle and high school students from the Boston Public Schools that is run by the University of Massachusetts Boston.

When she was getting ready to apply for medical school, Tiffany needed to take a preparation course to get ready for the Medical School Aptitude Test, the sort of class most people take for granted. Our HCOP grant paid for her course. After receiving the same help that other students get, Tiffany earned a solid score and began applying to medical school. When she got into her first medical school, we are all pleased. Just recently, she was admitted to Tufts (her first choice, of course). All of her supporters were ecstatic.

I cannot speak for every HCOP program, nor can I say that every student in our program is as successful as Tiffany, but I can say that she is not our only success and that I know that the longer we are able to keep our program going the more students like her we will produce.

For now, however, we are preparing for the possibility that our program, and dozens like it, will disappear over the next couple of years. Do we really think we are saving money if we leave behind thousands of young people with the potential that Tiffany has?

Doug Brugge is an associate professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Published in In Motion Magazine June 4, 2006

Also see:

  • Science with the People
    Community Research in Environmental Health Studies
    in Science, Advocacy and Ethics
    by Doug Brugge and H. Patricia Hynes
    Boston, Massachusetts

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