MDRC in the News

Looming Budget Cuts Threaten Proven Program

Inside Higher Ed


A City University of New York program considered a national model for improving graduation rates of disadvantaged students is facing budget cuts. Higher ed experts worry this may be the first of many disinvestments in student success due to the recession caused by the pandemic.

he Accelerated Study in Associate Programs at the City University of New York is widely considered one of the most successful programs in higher education for improving outcomes of low-income students.

Students in CUNY ASAP had a graduation rate 18 percentage points higher compared to their peers not in the program, according to a study by MDRC, a nonprofit education research organization. Three years into the study, researchers found that 25 percent of students in the program were enrolled in a four-year college, compared to 17 percent of the students in the control group…..

…..CUNY ASAP is one of very few programs in higher education to have received rigorous evaluation by MDRC and to be found to be successful, according to Michael Weiss, senior associate of postsecondary education policy at MDRC.

The nonprofit compared a control group of students to those in the program, which is considered a gold standard for research. The outcomes of the program were huge. Even after eight years, there was still a 10-percentage-point lead in graduation rates for ASAP students. The program was replicated at community colleges in Ohio, with similar success.

“It’s been seen as a national beacon,” Weiss said. “To have this program that already was seen as exceptional then be proven effective again in a new context is kind of unusual.”

But, like many programs aimed at helping students improve their social mobility, CUNY ASAP is expensive. Students in the program receive tuition and fee waivers, monthly transit passes, textbook stipends, tutoring, intensive advising, and career counseling…..

…..Weiss hopes the budget cut isn’t a canary in the coal mine. He said he expected ASAP to be modeled by other institutions and to be “spreading like wildfire” due to its proven effectiveness, but that did not happen because of the high costs of administering and maintaining the program. Cuts to the program could also deter other colleges from implementing the model…..

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