MDRC in the News

How to Cut College Dropout Rates

David L. Kirp, The New York Times


“She’s like my older sister”— that’s not how most undergraduates think about their advisers. But it was the first thing that came to Elodie Oriental’s mind when she described Hanna Tenadu. “I go to her to explain everything I’m going through,” said Ms. Oriental, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who, with her twin sister, Ismaelle, shares the distinction of being the first in their family to go to college. “She’s the ear that listens to me cry”…..

…..CUNY began tackling the dropout problem at its community colleges 12 years ago. The program, called ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), delivers a bundle of supports, including tuition forgiveness and preference for courses for those enrolled, a course schedule intended to accommodate work and family responsibilities, textbook vouchers and free public transportation. While the promise of free transportation was initially the big draw — students have dubbed ASAP the “Metro-card program” — it’s the personal touch, the “I-have-your-back” advising and counseling, that makes the biggest difference.

ASAP’s impact, confirmed through rigorous, continuous evaluation, is very rare in the annals of higher education. Since the start of the program, 53 percent of ASAP students have earned an associate degree in three years, more than double the national and CUNY-wide completion rates [according to an MDRC study]…..

…..All too often, a promising scheme that works at one institution cannot be replicated, but these initiatives travel well. A second CUNY institution, Lehman College, plans to use ACE this year, and the same playbook is being used elsewhere, with equal success. In Ohio, community college students enrolled in an ASAP-clone program graduated at double the rate of their classmates who were not enrolled. [MDRC evaluated the replication]. Community colleges in California, Tennessee and elsewhere in New York have followed suit, and Montana is adopting the model at several community colleges and universities…..

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