MDRC in the News

Fulfilling the Promise of Community College: The ASAP Demonstrations

Susan M. Dynarski and Meghan Oster, Brookings


Community colleges, which enroll nearly 40 percent of undergraduates, have very low graduation rates. Only 20 percent of full-time community college students who seek a degree manage to graduate within three years. That rate rises to 35 percent after five years, but by then another 45 percent of degree-seekers have given up and dropped out of college.

How can we improve these troubling statistics? Early last year, MDRC, a respected research firm that specializes in evaluations of social policies, released the results of a randomized trial at the City University of New York (CUNY). In partnership with MDRC, CUNY tested an innovative program of wrap-around support services known as Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which provides intensive academic supports and incentives for its students. The ASAP program requires that students enroll full time and attend advising and tutoring sessions. All of their financial need is covered, and they receive free textbooks…..

…..The only way to determine whether ASAP can work in more community colleges is to test it. MDRC did exactly this, launching randomized trials of the ASAP approach at several community colleges in Ohio. Results from the first year of the pilots are positive. The Ohio programs increased enrollment intensity, with more students attending full-time. They also boosted credit accumulation, and persistence into a second semester. ASAP-style programs work not only in Manhattan but also in the Midwest…..

…..MDRC, which has considerable experience in running trials in community colleges, says the programs in Ohio and New York are producing some of the largest effects they have seen in postsecondary education. This is particularly impressive given that the Ohio program cost an average of $3,000 per student, well below the $5,400 per student of the New York program…..

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