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Student Supports Boost CC Graduation Rates

Extra supports, both financial and academic, make a difference to community college graduation rates. That was the bottom line shared in a new brief from MDRC, which was hired to assess the "Accelerated Study in Associate Programs" (ASAP) project, which took place over three years in Ohio.

As reported in 2017, ASAP was initially developed by the City University of New York to boost the success of two-year college attendees. Students there were required to enroll full-time, take developmental courses, meet regularly with an adviser and attend tutoring if they were struggling academically. In return, they received a tuition wavier, free use of textbooks, access to advisers with reduced caseloads, individual career and employment services, tutoring and a metro card for unlimited use of New York City public transit. The takeaway from that effort: Within three years, the program had nearly doubled graduation rates for ASAP students (40 percent versus 22 percent for a non-ASAP group). After six years, the ASAP students continued outperforming the control group, with 51 percent of the program group earning degrees compared with 41 percent of the control group.

A summary of the Ohio ASAP program model components

A summary of the Ohio ASAP program model components. Source: "Doubling Graduation Rates in a New State" from MDRC.

Then the model was adopted in Ohio in 2014 by three schools: Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College and Lorain County Community College. In that state just 15 percent of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students at public two-year institutions earn degrees within three years. Like the CUNY ASAP model, the Ohio program required full-time enrollment and encouraged participants to take developmental courses immediately; it also provided "comprehensive support services," including intensive advising, financial support and the use of seats held in specific courses for these students, as well as condensed schedules.

MDRC performed a study of the results after two years of the program. The conclusion: The Ohio programs were largely able to achieve the same net effects as CUNY ASAP, and in some cases were able to exceed them.

ASAP students had to fit specific criteria to be eligible for the study. They were from low-income families and therefore eligible for Pell Grants, seeking degrees and willing to attend full-time. Also, they were majoring in programs that could be completed in three years. A total of 1,501 students made up the study group: 806 in the ASAP program and 695 in the control group. About half were considered non-traditional. Three in four had at least one developmental education course requirement at the time of their random assignment to the ASAP or control groups. And about 60 percent were employed from the start, with about a quarter of them working full-time.

After three years, students in the program group "clearly outperformed" the control group in many areas:

  • Persistence in school. The effect on enrollment grew to 12 percentage points for ASAP students versus control group students by the second semester, and remained above 9 points through the end of the four-semester follow-up period;
  • Full-time enrollment. In the first semester, there was an estimated 18 percentage point effect on full-time enrollment, an impact that continued throughout the rest of the follow-up period, ranging from 11 to 19 percentage points.
  • Credit accumulation. The program group earned roughly two credits more than the control group per semester, for a total increase of eight additional credits by the end of the four semesters; and
  • Graduation. The graduation rates more than doubled: Nineteen percent of the program group earned a degree or credential after two years compared with 8 percent of the control group.

The MDRC briefing also provided a breakdown on costs for the Ohio program. The total annual direct cost per program group member, the report stated, was $2,331. About 42 percent of that was the expense of administration and staffing. Financial support — monthly incentives, textbook subsidies and tuition help — made up 32 percent, about a third of the cost. And 26 percent covered the expense of student services, such as dedicated advisers, tutoring and career counseling.

Now, additional colleges — one in New York and another in California -- are implementing their own versions of the program, with the help of CUNY. Of those participating schools in Ohio, one is continuing with its efforts and expanding the program with the goal of making it available to every eligible student in coming years; a second college is trying to figure out how to make the program sustainable; and the third college is taking lessons learned and embedding those into other programs and policies.

The 12-page briefing is openly available through the MDRC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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