Amid Steep Declines in Community College Enrollment, SUNY Westchester Community College Boosts Credit Attainment with Comprehensive Student Support Program

Interim results of rigorous randomized control trial show impressive performance of a new program based on City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs

John Hutchins, MDRC, 212-340-8604, [email protected]
Mark Stollar, SUNY Westchester Community College, 914-606-6638, [email protected]

MDRC and SUNY Westchester Community College (WCC) announced today new study results evaluating a comprehensive student support program that substantially increased student success.

SUNY WCC’s Viking ROADS (Resources for Obtaining Associate Degrees and Success) increased full-time enrollment levels for participating students by up to 20 percentage points over students in a control group—and increased credit attainment by roughly 3 credits over the first two semesters. Taken together, these findings suggest that the program enabled more students to persist and take more credits than they would have otherwise. In addition, students were able to manage this increased course load and make faster progress toward graduation.

Viking ROADS is an opportunity program that helps motivated students graduate with an associate’s degree in three years or less. In exchange for full-time study and fulfilling program requirements, students receive personalized advising and financial and academic support. Among the eligibility requirements for participating in the program, students must be a New York State resident, be a first-time student in a college or a continuing/transfer student with no more than 18 credits and at least a 2.0 GPA, and enroll in an eligible major. Over 70 percent of the students involved in the study identified as Black or Latinx, and more than 30 percent were the first in their family to attend a college or university.

“At a time when an increasing number of community college students were diverted from their studies due to the hardships imposed by the pandemic, SUNY WCC’s Viking ROADS program demonstrated significant success in guiding and encouraging students to achieve their academic goals,” said Dr. Belinda S. Miles, President of SUNY Westchester Community College. “SUNY WCC’s commitment to academic success is evidenced by our increasing graduation rate overall. The results of this Viking ROADS study, along with our other opportunity programs, confirm that SUNY WCC has the tools in place to continue this positive trend that has such critical importance in the lives of our students, their families, and our region’s economic growth.”

Viking ROADS, launched in 2018 with major support from Arnold Ventures and an anonymous WCC Foundation donor, is based closely on the successful City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), a comprehensive community college program that doubled three-year graduation rates in prior evaluations in New York City and Ohio. SUNY WCC received technical assistance from CUNY during the study replication.

Like CUNY ASAP, Viking ROADS offers students a comprehensive, integrated, three-year package of support including:

  1. Academic and career support: a dedicated academic counselor, tutoring services, career services, and summer college orientation
  2. Financial supports: a scholarship that covers the gap between grant aid and tuition and fees, a monthly transportation voucher, and an annual textbook stipend of $500
  3. Specialized course enrollment options, including reserved seats in select first-year courses

To receive these benefits, Viking ROADS students are required to enroll full time at WCC, complete required developmental courses within the first year, and use support services monthly.

In MDRC’s study, interested students were randomly assigned into a program group that received Viking ROADS services or to a control group that received regular college programming. The students entered the study in three cohorts, at the start of the fall 2019, fall 2020, and spring 2021 semesters. Students who began the study in fall 2019 were required to adapt to remote learning after one semester, while the students starting in fall 2020 and spring 2021 joined the study at a time when classes and student support were available mostly online. In-person classes resumed in fall 2021.

More on the Findings

The early findings focus on enrollment data for the first three semesters and credit accumulation for the first two semesters. During this time, the program group clearly outperformed the control group:

  • Full-time enrollment: Vikings ROADS students outpaced students in the control group in full-time enrollment by between 11.7 and 19.9 percentage points in each of the first three semesters.
  • Credit attainment: The program group earned roughly three credits more than the control group over the first two semesters (19.5 credits vs. 16.3 credits).

Taken together, these findings suggest that the program enabled more students to persist and take more credits than they would have otherwise. In addition, students were able to manage this increased course load and make more progress toward graduation.

“These early findings on enrollment and credits earned in Westchester Community College’s Viking ROADS program are very encouraging, particularly considering that they occurred during the disruptions of the pandemic,” said Colleen Sommo, MDRC senior associate and director of the evaluation. “We look forward to continuing to follow the progress of these students.”

“What is striking about the Viking ROADS’ early findings is how remarkably similar they are to the impacts we saw here at CUNY with ASAP and within the ASAP replication in Ohio,” said Donna Linderman, CUNY Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “This serves as another demonstration of how powerful the ASAP model can be across varying implementation settings.”

A final report with three-year findings from MDRC’s evaluation of Viking ROADS will be released in 2024.

For more information, read Improving Academic Outcomes at Westchester Community College During the Pandemic: Promising Interim Findings from the Viking ROADS Randomized Controlled Trial by Stanley Dai, Colleen Sommo, and Rebekah O’Donoghue.

About Westchester Community College: SUNY Westchester Community College provides over 24,000 full-time and part-time students with an education taught by award-winning faculty at one of the lowest tuition rates in New York State. The college offers over 60 degree and certificate programs, including innovative programs in such high-demand fields as Cybersecurity, Health Information Technology, Respiratory Therapy, and Digital Filmmaking. The college reflects the rich diversity of its region and was the first SUNY campus to be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

About The City University of New York: The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges, and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving over 243,000 undergraduate and graduate students and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic, and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.

About MDRC: MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic mobility to improving public education and college graduation rates. MDRC designs promising new interventions, evaluates existing programs using the highest research standards, and provides technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale.