What Can a Multifaceted Program Do for Community College Students?

Early Results from an Evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students

In recent years, there has been unprecedented national focus on the importance of increasing the stubbornly low graduation rates of community college students. Most reforms that have been tried are short-term and address one or only a few barriers to student success. The City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), launched in 2007 with funding from Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), is an uncommonly multifaceted and long-term program designed to help community college students graduate.

ASAP requires students to attend college full time and provides a rich array of supports and incentives for up to three years, with a goal of graduating at least 50 percent of students within three years. Unlike many programs, ASAP aims to simultaneously address multiple barriers to student success over many semesters. The program model includes some block-scheduled classes for ASAP students for the first year of the program; an ASAP seminar for at least the first year, which covers such topics as goal-setting and academic planning; comprehensive advisement; tutoring; career services; a tuition waiver that covers any gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition and fees; free MetroCards for use on public transportation; and free use of textbooks.

This report presents very promising early findings from a random assignment study of ASAP at three CUNY community colleges: Borough of Manhattan, Kingsborough, and LaGuardia. For the study, ASAP targets low-income students who need one or two developmental (remedial) courses to build their reading, writing, or math skills. The study compares ASAP with regular services and classes at the colleges. Key findings include effects on:

  • Full-time enrollment. During the study’s first semester, ASAP increased full-time enrollment by 11 percentage points: 96 percent of the students assigned to ASAP enrolled full time, compared with 85 percent of the comparison group.
  • Credits earned and completing developmental coursework. ASAP increased the average number of credits earned during the first semester by 2.1 credits and increased the proportion of students who completed their developmental coursework by the end of that semester by 15 percentage points.
  • Semester-to-semester retention. ASAP increased the proportion of students who enrolled in college during the second semester by 10 percentage points and increased full-time enrollment that semester by 21 percentage points.

ASAP’s early effects are larger than the effects of most of the community college programs MDRC has studied previously. ASAP’s comprehensive package of financial aid, services, and supports, together with its full-time attendance requirement, has resulted in students taking and passing more credits than they would have otherwise. Future reports will show whether these effects can be sustained — or even grow — as students continue in this comprehensive, three-year program.

Scrivener, Susan, Michael J. Weiss, and Colleen Sommo. 2012. What Can a Multifaceted Program Do for Community College Students?. New York: MDRC.