Press Release

New Study Shows CUNY’s ASAP Program Boosts Two-Year Graduation Rate of Community College Students Who Need Remedial Education


(New York, January 8, 2014) — MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, released encouraging findings today from a rigorous evaluation of the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), an ambitious three-year intervention to encourage and support community college students to attend school full time and graduate. After two years, ASAP has increased the proportion of developmental education students who have completed an associate’s degree by 5.7 percentage points (14.5 percent for ASAP students vs. 8.7 percent for students in CUNY’s regular programs) — a 66 percent increase. 

Community colleges across the country confront a clear challenge: too many students arrive on campus unprepared, get placed into developmental courses where they stagnate, attend only part time (because of work or other responsibilities), and never complete a credential, graduate, or transfer to a four-year institution. At the same time, community colleges are subject to increasing expectations — and increased scrutiny — about their ability to develop a better-educated and credentialed workforce. 

What Is ASAP?

In 2007, The City University of New York (CUNY), with the support and funding from the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), launched Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) at all six CUNY community colleges. ASAP requires students to attend college full time and provides them with a rich array of supports for three full years, including a tuition waiver that covers any gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition and fees, special seminars and block-scheduled classes, enhanced advising, career services, free MetroCards for use on public transportation, and free use of textbooks. In 2009, CUNY, in partnership with CEO and CEO’s evaluators, conducted an internal evaluation of ASAP and found very promising effects for participating students. At that point, CUNY decided to expand the program and commissioned MDRC to conduct an external study to test ASAP’s effects using a random assignment design, the “gold standard” methodology in program evaluation. 

What Did MDRC’s Study Find?

MDRC’s study focuses on three CUNY community colleges: Borough of Manhattan, Kingsborough, and LaGuardia. For the study, ASAP targets low-income students who need one or two developmental courses to build their reading, writing, or math skills. The study compares ASAP with regular services and classes at the colleges. MDRC’s report provides results for the first two years of the three-year program. Key findings include effects on: 

  • Semester-to-semester retention. After the first semester, ASAP consistently increased the likelihood that students would enroll in each subsequent semester by 8 to 10 percentage points. The effect on enrolling in shorter intercessions (winter or summer) was even larger.
  • Credits earned. ASAP increased the average number of credits earned over two years by 7.6 credits (37.9 for ASAP students vs. 30.4 for control students), a 25 percent increase that represents 13 percent of the college-level credits required to earn a degree.
  • Graduation. ASAP increased the proportion of students who earned an associate’s degree in two years by 5.7 percentage points (14.5 percent for ASAP students vs. 8.7 percent for the control group). It’s important to note that these students had to fulfill developmental education requirements before earning at least 60 college-level credits to graduate. In fact, data from the first cohort of students in the study shows that this effect grows substantially by the two-and-a-half-year mark: 33.3 percent of program group members had earned an associate’s degree, compared with 18.2 percent of control group members — for an impact of 15.1 percentage points. 

“These positive effects are among the largest we’ve seen in a community college setting, and they provide strong evidence that ASAP’s package of supports and services — and its strong message about full-time attendance — is making a real difference for students with developmental education needs,” said Gordon Berlin, President of MDRC

MDRC’s findings give us even more confidence in the decision we reached with the city and state to finance an 1,800-student expansion of ASAP to 3,225 students this fall. With the addition of 2,000 new students next year to fill the slots of those who will graduate, we’ll grow to 4,000 students in Fall 2014,” said CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly. “Quite simply: ASAP works.” 

“By significantly improving graduation rates for participating students, CUNY ASAP has set a new standard of success for community colleges nationwide,” said Kristin Morse, Executive Director of the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity. “A college degree is the best pathway out of poverty, and ASAP makes that path a reality for many more students.” 

MDRC will publish three-year results from its evaluation of ASAP in 2014, including findings on the implementation and cost of ASAP

MDRC’s study is supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and Robin Hood Foundation.

Contact: John Hutchins, Communications Director, 212-340-8604, [email protected]

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Headquartered in New York City, with a regional office in Oakland, CA, MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization with 40 years of experience designing and evaluating education and social policy initiatives.