Evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students


National attention is focused on increasing graduation rates at community colleges. Graduation rates are particularly low for students who come to campus underprepared for college-level work. Across the nation, between 60 and 70 percent of entering freshmen in community colleges enroll in developmental (or remedial) math, reading, or writing courses. Data show that only 28 percent of developmental students in two-year colleges attain a degree or certificate within eight and a half years of entry, compared with 43 percent of nondevelopmental students. Finding ways to help developmental students persist in school and receive a degree is critical to substantially increasing graduation rates.

MDRC conducted an evaluation of an unusually comprehensive program designed to help students to stay in school and graduate with an associate’s degree quickly. Originally funded by the Center for Economic Opportunity in New York City, the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) began operating in fall 2007. CUNY’s internal evaluation of the effects of ASAP has been promising, with participants graduating at a higher rate than a comparison group of similarly skilled students. CUNY reached out to MDRC to conduct a random assignment study of ASAP beginning in spring 2010. For the MDRC evaluation, ASAP exclusively targeted students who needed one or two developmental courses based on their scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests in reading, writing, and math. (Outside of the study, ASAP also targets students who do not need any developmental courses.) The evaluation found that ASAP almost doubled three-year graduation rates for developmental education students. ASAP’s effects for students, described in a February 2015 report, are by far the largest effects MDRC has found for a community college intervention. In addition, because ASAP produced so many more graduates than standard college services, the cost per graduate was actually lower in ASAP, despite the substantial investment required to operate the program.

As a very promising model, ASAP has received a lot of attention in the higher education field. To help understand whether ASAP can be implemented by other colleges, in other settings, and yield substantial effects, MDRC and CUNY are leading a project to implement and evaluate ASAP in three community colleges in Ohio: Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Lorain County Community College. Core funding for the project comes from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

ASAP requires students to attend college full time and during the evaluation period provided the following components for three years:

  • Tuition waiver: Any gap between tuition or fees and financial aid was waived for students who were eligible for financial aid.

  • Free monthly MetroCards for use on public transportation in the New York City area.

  • Free use of textbooks for all classes.

  • Comprehensive advising and counseling services: Students were assigned to an ASAP adviser with a small caseload (about 60 to 80 students) who was expected to provide comprehensive support.

  • Enhanced tutoring: ASAP tutors provided general support and conducted regular review sessions for especially challenging courses. Students who were struggling were required to receive tutoring.

  • Career development services: Students met with ASAP career and employment specialists for assistance with career planning and, if needed, job placement.

  • Cohorts of students in blocked or linked courses: During the first year of the program, students take at least two of their classes with other ASAP students.

For the MDRC evaluation, ASAP targeted students who:

  • Were required to take one or two developmental courses

  • Were incoming freshmen or have 12 or fewer credits with a GPA of at least 2.0

  • Had family income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level or had been determined to be eligible for a Pell grant

The MDRC evaluation provided an opportunity to rigorously test a rich package of services that is rarely available to community college students and that has the potential to yield dramatic improvements in their education outcomes. The key goal of the evaluation was to see if ASAP helps students progress through developmental education, remain in college, and graduate with associate’s degrees.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

Three of CUNY’s seven community colleges participated in the evaluation:

  • Borough of Manhattan Community College

  • Kingsborough Community College

  • LaGuardia Community College

For the study, eligible students at the three colleges were randomly assigned either to a program group, whose members were eligible for ASAP, or to a control group, whose members were eligible for standard college courses and services. MDRC compared the average outcomes of the two research groups to determine the effects of ASAP. Key outcomes of interest included progress through developmental education, credit accumulation, semester-to-semester retention, transfer to four-year institutions, and, of course, graduation. The evaluation tracked students’ outcomes for three years after random assignment. The evaluation also included a study of the implementation of ASAP and its costs.