But for many, a college education is the way out of a life of poverty. At Foothill College, which has campuses in Los Altos and at Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto, the most vulnerable students receive financial help and academic support through Extended Opportunity Program and Services, a state-wide program.
Nazy Galoyan, currently dean of enrollment services at Foothill, was herself an Extended Opportunity Program and Services student until 2007.
"It was my family," she said of the program. "I was a single mother at the time. They helped me; at the holidays they provided gifts and activities. I would not have been able to go through school without EOPS (Extended Opportunity Program and Services)."
Galoyan also said she credits the program with contributing to her success in college and her current career. From Foothill, Galoyan transferred to San Francisco State University, where she majored in business management and minored in Russian. Galoyan graduated from San Jose State Univeristy with a masters degree in counseling and education before returning to Foothill as a dean.
"It's not just that EOPS provides; they also are empowering (students)," Galoyan said. "They are giving you hope. They are making it possible for you, expecting you to achieve your goal."
In addition to counseling, tutoring and community, the program offers textbook vouchers to enrolled students. Deeply affected by cuts to state education funds, the program now relies increasingly on community funding to support eligible students, said Alexandra Duran, who directs the Foothill program.
The Extended Opportunity Program and Services received a $4,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund this past year to supplement the textbook vouchers.
"In the past, we used to be able to support students with all of their required textbooks," Duran said. "But after the 40 percent cut in funding from the state during the 2009-2010 academic year, we had to just offer a monetary number instead of buying all books."
Currently, enrolled students receive on average $250 to offset textbook costs, but this amount does not cover all required books, Duran said.
"Tuition and fees run around $1,094 for the academic year," Duran said. "Books and supplies raises that total to around $1,710, meaning books and supplies cost well over $500."
The Holiday Fund grant allows the program to give vital financial support to students enrolled full-time who qualify for free tuition and meet the program criteria, Duran added.
Duran said that students have to meet certain economic and educational disadvantage criteria, such as being a first-generation college student or speaking English as a second language. Extended Opportunity Program and Services students often enroll in basic-skills courses — usually remedial English and math — when starting at Foothill, Duran said.
Iris Kula, who is studying to become an ultrasound technician and is also working towards a degree in communication, said the Extended Opportunity Program and Services gives her hope.
"When I started researching (going back to school), when I saw how much it was to register, how much the textbooks were, I was just going to turn around and leave," Kula said.
Kula — who cannot even afford a cell phone — said she talked with Extended Opportunity Program and Services counselors about the program and its resources.
"I'm opening my eyes to opportunities I never knew existed," Kula said. "EOPS is paying for my books. Without their program, I never would have come back (to start college)."
Angela Rosendo also is grateful for the textbook vouchers. Working towards a sociology degree, Rosendo said her goal is to transfer to San Jose State University and become a police officer.
"You get to take whatever class you want because you can get the book," Rosendo said. "It helps me a lot because I don't have to worry about not being able to buy the book."
Foothill's Extended Opportunity Program and Support has a record of success, Duran said.
"We create an environment that values each student's individual potential," she said, "so they may achieve their career goals and educational objectives."
Last academic year, the program served 433 students. As of November, 303 students were in the program, and Duran said 95 percent of students who start with the program stay enrolled in college throughout the year.
"The Holiday Fund has really helped in increasing the allocated textbook amount per year per student," Duran said. "Most of our EOPS students cannot afford the purchase of textbooks. If our department was not able to provide a reasonable amount, these students would stop coming to school."
Galoyan said she also relied heavily on the program's support when she was in school.
"EOPS played a huge role in my life," she said. "Book vouchers actually gave me the ability to stay in school."
To read more about the Holiday Fund, and to make a donation, see page 8.