National attention is focused on increasing graduation rates at community colleges. 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 show that only 28 percent of developmental students in two-year colleges attain a degree or certificate within eight and a half years of entry, compared with 43 percent of nondevelopmental students. Finding ways to help developmental students persist in school and receive a degree is critical to substantially increasing graduation rates.
MDRC conducted 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 by the Center for Economic Opportunity in New York City, the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) began operating in fall 2007. CUNY’s internal evaluation of the effects of ASAP has been 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 targeted students who needed one or two developmental courses based on their scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests in reading, writing, and math. (Outside of the study, ASAP also targets students who do not need any developmental courses.) The evaluation found that ASAP almost doubled three-year graduation rates for developmental education students. ASAP’s effects for students, described in a February 2015 report, are by far the largest effects MDRC has found for a community college intervention. In addition, because ASAP produced so many more graduates than standard college services, the cost per graduate was actually lower in ASAP, despite the substantial investment required to operate the program.
As a very promising model, ASAP has received a lot of attention in the higher education field. To help understand whether ASAP can be implemented by other colleges, in other settings, and yield substantial effects, MDRC and CUNY are leading a project to implement and evaluate ASAP in three community colleges in Ohio: Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Lorain County Community College. Core funding for the project comes from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation.