National attention is focused on increasing graduation rates at community colleges. Millions of students attend community colleges each year, but only a fraction remains in school long enough to receive a degree. 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 from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Longitudinal study shows that only 28 percent of developmental students in two-year colleges attain a degree or certificate within eight and one-half years of entry, compared with 43 percent of non-developmental students. Finding ways to help developmental students persist in school and receive a degree is critical to substantially increasing graduation rates.
MDRC is currently conducting 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 as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) began operating in fall 2007. That year, ASAP targeted just over 1,000 students at CUNY’s six community colleges who did not have any developmental education needs when the program began. Beginning in fall 2009, ASAP began to target students with one or two developmental course needs, based on their scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests in reading, writing, and math.
CUNY’s internal evaluation of the effects of ASAP for the students who entered the program in 2007 is 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 targets students who need one or two developmental courses.