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With Enough Support, Graduation Rates at CUNY Double

New research finds students who participated in a comprehensive support program at the City University of New York were nearly twice as likely to graduate than other community college students.

A study released Wednesday by the nonprofit research organization MDRC examined the impact of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) operated by the CUNY since 2007. It requires students to attend college full time, but provides intensive counseling, tutoring, and financial help with everything from free tuition and textbooks to transportation vouchers. To encourage students to stay engaged, students attend classes with others in the program and get schedules that accommodate their work hours.

Forty percent of CUNY students in the ASAP program finished an associate degree within three years, compared to 22 percent in the study's control group. The study targeted low-income students who had to take at least one remedial course. Nationwide, completion rates at community colleges are about 15 percent for students who start out in remedial education, according to the report.

The student-to-adviser ratio is about between 60:1 and 80:1 among those in the ASAP program and most met with an adviser 38 times.  For those receiving the usual college services, student-to-adviser ratios were between 600:1 and 1,500:1 and student met with an adviser an average of six times.

Since the program began, there have been eight cohorts of nearly 8,700 students in ASAP on seven CUNY campuses.

The extra supports cost about $16,000 more per student than CUNY would spend on someone not in the ASAP program. However, MDRC concludes the approach is cost effective because of the higher completion rates.

To cover the costs of the program, the CUNY receives city and state support, as well as grants from the Robin Hood Foundation, the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Sidney and Laura Gilbert Scholarship Fund, and the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women.

The CUNY's approach has caught the attention of the Obama administration, which highlighted ASAP in its recent proposal for free community college. Earlier research had indicated the program had merit. A study last year of ASAP showed it had promise in getting students through developmental education courses and persisting in community college.

The CUNY has been expanding ASAP with the goal of serving over 13,000 students by the fall of 2016 and is working with MDRC in the hopes of replicating the program elsewhere.

"Developmental education students' outcomes can be markedly improved with the right package of supports, requirements, and messages without changing what happens in the classroom," the MDRC report concludes.

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