Equity Issues

Community College ASAP Efforts Continue Helping Years Later

Seven years ago an experiment took place in the City University of New York involving low-income students with remedial education needs. About half of eligible spring and fall 2010 students knowingly participated in the "Accelerated Study in Associate Programs" (ASAP) project, which was meant to address low graduation rates for students pursuing an associate's degree. For their part, students were required to enroll full time, take developmental courses, meet regularly with an advisor and attend tutoring if they were struggling academically. In return, they received a tuition wavier, free use of textbooks, access to advisors with reduced caseloads, individual career and employment services, tutoring and a metro card for unlimited use of New York City public transit. The early takeaway: Within three years (the amount of time the services were made available to the students), the program had nearly doubled graduation rates for ASAP students (40 percent versus 22 percent for a non-ASAP group).

MDRC, which undertook that early study, recently revisited those students to understand the longer-term impact. A new report recently declared that ASAP "continues to increase graduation rates and enables some students to earn their degrees faster than they would have otherwise." At year six (three years after their ASAP participation had officially ended), while the difference in graduation rates had shrunk, more program group students had graduated with an associate's degree (51 percent versus 41 percent) and with a greater number of credits on average.

As an MDRC report noted, not only did ASAP encourage students to stay enrolled, but it helped them earn more credits on average than students in the control group.

The program also helped its recipients make the leap to bachelor's degree work sooner. However, as the study found, over six years comparable percentages of ASAP and control group students were enrolled in those institutions. And while ASAP students earned their bachelor's degrees "more quickly" than control group students, by the end of the six years comparable percentages of students in both groups had earned their credential.

"ASAP works incredibly well," the researchers concluded, benefiting "tens of thousands of students" since its introduction.

CUNY has since expanded to additional colleges in and out of state and adapted its community college work for students pursuing bachelor's degrees. Currently, the "Accelerate, Complete, Engage" (ACE) program is under evaluation by the CUNY ASAP Research and Evaluation team.

In the future, MDRC expects to revisit the data to assess the cost of the original ASAP program (about $14,000 per student) against employment earnings.

The report is openly available on the MDRC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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