Ohio Programs Based on CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) Nearly Double Three-Year Graduation Rates, Increase Transfers to Four-Year Colleges

Rare example of a program model being successfully adapted in a different setting


(Columbus, Ohio, January 28, 2020) — New results released today from a random assignment evaluation show that three Ohio community colleges have successfully adapted the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) innovative Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), nearly doubling three-year graduation rates and increasing transfers to four-year colleges by 50 percent. The magnitude of these results mirrors impacts achieved by the original CUNY program.

The evaluation, conducted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan research firm MDRC, also finds that the Ohio programs had positive effects on enrollment, full-time enrollment, and credits earned.

In 2014, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), and Lorain County Community College (LCCC) set out to address their low-income students’ needs by turning to a proven-effective program: Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) developed by the City University of New York (CUNY). ASAP requires students to enroll full time and provides comprehensive financial, academic, and personal support services.

The results from the new study were unveiled at a forum in Columbus, Ohio. Ascendium Education Group provided anchor funding for the demonstration and evaluation, supplemented with grants from a group of other higher education philanthropies.

What Is ASAP?

In 2007, the City University of New York, with the support and funding from the New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, launched ASAP at the then six existing CUNY community colleges to dramatically increase timely graduation. ASAP requires students to attend college full time and provides them with a rich array of support services for three full years, including enhanced advising, first-year courses reserved for program students, cohort course-taking, tutoring, career services, a tuition waiver to cover any gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition and fees, MetroCards for use on public transportation, and textbook assistance. Based on the success of the program, ASAP has been expanded across CUNY from 1,132 students in 2007 to 25,000 students in 2019. Additionally, ASAP is currently being replicated at seven institutions across four additional states beyond Ohio.

All three colleges in the Ohio demonstration modeled their programs’ administrative structure and services on CUNY ASAP. While a few program components had to be adjusted to meet the local context, the goal was to come as close to ASAP as possible. Instead of the MetroCards, the three Ohio colleges offer $50 gift cards for use at local gas and grocery store chains. CUNY provided technical assistance to the colleges, and the Ohio Department of Higher Education coordinated the Ohio ASAP Network, which allowed administrators to share lessons across the three colleges.

What Did the Study in Ohio Find?

The Ohio colleges targeted students who were from low-income families, willing to attend full time, and in majors where degrees could be completed within three years. Students could be new to college or could be continuing students with up to 24 credits. The study compares the Ohio demonstration of ASAP with regular services and classes at the colleges. Key findings after three years include:

  • The Ohio schools serve predominantly nontraditional students. Compared with the sample from MDRC’s evaluation of CUNY ASAP, students in Ohio were somewhat older when they entered the study (average age 23.2 compared with 21.5), were more likely to be parents (27.0 percent versus 15.3 percent), and were twice as likely to be working (59.9 percent versus 31.3 percent).
  • The Ohio programs boosted enrollment, full-time enrollment, and credits earned. By the end of three years, students in the program had earned 8.5 more credits on average than those in the control group.
  • The Ohio programs nearly doubled graduation rates after three years. Thirty-five percent of the program group had earned an associate’s degree, compared with 19 percent of the control group — a 16 percentage point increase.
  • The Ohio programs increased the number of students who successfully transferred to four-year colleges. Eighteen percent of students in the program were registered at four-year colleges after three years, compared with 12 percent of control group students.
  • Positive effects were evident for all subgroups of students examined, including those who entered college with and without developmental (remedial) education requirements.
  • While the Ohio programs cost more per student than the usual services, they led to a lower cost per degree. The direct cost of the Ohio programs was about an additional $1,840 per year. However, the large increase in degree receipt meant that the cost per degree was 22 percent lower for program students.

“These striking increases in graduation rates resulted from a winning combination — these three colleges adopted the City University of New York’s effective ASAP program, adapted it to their local context in Ohio, and made sure the new approach was implemented well,” said Virginia Knox, President of MDRC.

“The continued success of this program is great news for the colleges, for our state, and — most importantly — for the students,” said Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner. “It provides students with the tools and the confidence to help them succeed, to prepare them for the workforce, and to make them a vital part of Ohio’s future.”

“ASAP has once again produced positive results beyond the City University of New York, this time by nearly doubling graduation rates at three Ohio community colleges, and shown its efficacy as a national model for student success,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “CUNY is immensely proud of the trailblazing impact ASAP has had on more than 58,000 of our community college students since it was launched 13 years ago, and we are pleased to see these outcomes in Ohio. We congratulate the administrators of these schools for charting a new path to help students achieve their academic goals and continue their success at four-year colleges.”

“The results of the study at Lorain County Community College and the other Ohio community colleges show that when we break down barriers for low-income students and implement the right combination of student support it leads to student success,” said LCCC President Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D. “We are committed to growing our SAIL initiative by 15 percent annually with the goal of serving 1,000 students every academic year. The SAIL program is one of the ways that LCCC is working to raise the educational attainment level in our community, which is the core foundation of the college’s strategic vision to deliver 10,000 degrees of impact by 2025 that align to jobs of the future.”

“Implementing the CUNY ASAP model at Cuyahoga Community College reinforced the life-changing power of student support initiatives,” Tri-C President Alex Johnson, Ph.D., said. “The College adopted aspects of the ASAP program across the institution in regards to academic advising, counseling, mentoring, and tutoring, which has helped drive graduation and retention rates to record highs. The lessons gained will drive our methods for student success for years to come.”

“This study allowed us to clearly demonstrate that upfront investment in student success is worth the cost,” said Dr. Monica Posey, President of Cincinnati State. “Cincinnati State's new five-year Strategic Plan includes expanding CState Accelerate, our Ohio ASAP initiative.”

“These new results from MDRC’s evaluation continue to validate both the adaptability of the ASAP strategy and the commitment of our Ohio partners to help more underserved students realize their goal of a postsecondary credential,” said Amy Kerwin, Vice President-Education Philanthropy at Ascendium Education Group. “The ASAP in Ohio story also offers lessons for higher education leaders across the country about what it takes to scale proven programs.”

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The Ohio demonstration of ASAP and MDRC’s evaluation are supported by Ascendium Education Group, Arnold Ventures, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, The Kresge Foundation, and Lumina Foundation. The Joyce Foundation is supporting ASAP Ohio dissemination activities.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education is a Cabinet-level agency for the Governor of the State of Ohio that oversees higher education for the state. The agency’s main responsibilities include authorizing and approving new degree programs, managing state-funded financial aid programs, and developing and advocating policies to maximize higher education’s contributions to the state and its citizens.

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 colleges11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving 275,000 students and awarding 55,000 degrees each year.

MDRC is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency 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.