Three Ohio community colleges that tested the Accelerated Student in Associate Programs (ASAP) – a well-regarded City University of New York (CUNY) program that requires students to attend college full-time and provides robust wraparound students services — have nearly doubled three-year graduation rates and increased transfers to four-year colleges by 50 percent, according to a three-year evaluation by MDRC.
The nonprofit research firm also found that the Ohio programs improved enrollment, full-time enrollment and credits earned. However, the cost of running the programs has prompted two of three colleges not to continue, though they plan to retain certain parts of it.
Thirty-five percent of students enrolled in the ASAP-like programs at the three Ohio colleges — Cuyahoga Community College, Lorain County Community College and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College — earned an associate degree after three years, compared to 19 percent of students in a control group at those colleges, according to MDRC.
Students in the program also earned 8.5 more credits, on average, than students in the control group, and 18 percent of students in the program were registered at four-year colleges after three years, compared to 12 percent in the other group, the report says.
Success despite some differences
The research continues to support the effectiveness of ASAP, especially among colleges in different settings and student populations, the report says. The Ohio programs differed from CUNY ASAP in several ways. For example, the Ohio colleges were not part of a system like CUNY, so the three programs were managed by institutions rather than a central office, MDRC notes. The evaluation of the Ohio programs also includes students who did and did not have developmental education requirements and includes many nontraditional students. The CUNY ASAP evaluation focused on developmental education students, most of whom were considered traditional college students.
“The fact that the Ohio programs achieved similar results to CUNY ASAP, despite these differences, demonstrates that the ASAP model can be effective in varying localities and institutional contexts and for different student populations,” the MDRC report says. “This finding is noteworthy since practitioners and policymakers have recognized ASAP as a model worth expanding nationally.”
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The Ohio colleges did mirror CUNY ASAP as close as possible, but they did have to tweak parts of it to reflect local contexts, MDRC says. For example, although the Ohio colleges weren’t able to use blocked course schedules like CUNY, they did try to develop strong connections among participating students by placing them in classes together or informing them when there were other students from the program in their courses, the report says.
The Ohio programs also provided tutoring and career services differently then CUNY. Rather than providing such services themselves, the colleges used existing tutoring and career centers on campus and allowed students to fulfill requirements in multiple ways, such as receiving tutoring online, MDRC says.
“These changes suggest that the program components can be put into operation in different ways and still lead to positive results,” the report says.
Cost is a barrier
Running ASAP-like programs — which include comprehensive financial, academic and personal support services — is more expensive. The direct cost of the programs was $5,521 per program group member over three years, or $1,840 per year, according to the evaluation. The estimate includes $2,369 for administration and staffing, $1,517 for student services and $1,635 for financial support.
In total, after adding in the costs of educating more students (since the programs increased enrollment and the number of college courses taken), the colleges invested $8,030 more per program group member than they did per control group member. However, MDRC notes the programs increased graduation rates so much that the cost per degree earned was 22 percent lower for the program group than for the control group.
Still, cost was a factor among the Ohio colleges in sustaining the program. Two of the colleges that decided not to continue their program cited the high costs, the report says. The college that is keeping the program aims to do so for the short term by repurposing institutional funding that aligns with the goals of the program, it says.
“The fact that only one of the three colleges is continuing to operate its program despite the large, positive effects on graduation rates suggests that financial sustainability is an important part of the long-term viability of comprehensive student success programs,” the report says.
In CUNY, New York City provides direct funding for ASAP, which is expanding and aims to serve 25,000 students across nine colleges in the system.