Agenda, Scope, and Goals
Graduation rates at community colleges have remained low for decades, especially for low-income students and students of color. Over the last 15 years, though, MDRC and other researchers have established a rigorous body of evidence about what works in postsecondary education. This research shows that certain approaches (for instance, enhanced advising, financial incentives, encouragement to enroll in summer) can have positive, but modest effects.
The evidence also shows that combining multiple evidence-based interventions into a single extended program can produce substantial improvements in student outcomes. Examples of such programs include Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) and the Detroit Promise Path. Most notably, CUNY designed, developed, and implemented its Accelerated Study in Associate’s Programs (ASAP), which was the first to show, through a random assignment evaluation, that comprehensive student support programs could dramatically increase graduation rates. (Institutions interested in replicating CUNY ASAP should reach out to CUNY at CUNYASAPR[email protected]).
However, scaling comprehensive programs to many colleges has been slower than we’d like, owing in part to resource constraints. SUCCESS is aiming for the sweet spot — by leveraging existing resources to create multifaceted programs at an affordable cost, it may be possible to produce substantial impacts at scale.
All SUCCESS programs will provide services to students for two to three years and include five components:
- Coaches, supervised by a dedicated SUCCESS program director/manager, who reach out actively to the most at-risk students and meet frequently with them.
- Financial incentives to encourage students to meet with coaches and satisfy other program requirements.
- Strategies focused on increasing academic momentum (including requiring full-time enrollment and encouraging summer/winter enrollment).
- A robust management information system that provides real-time data that staff members use to support efficient program management and continuous improvement.
- A commitment to affordability and sustainability that is realized in part by using and consolidating existing resources.
In some cases, SUCCESS programs will include these five components alone. In other cases, they may include adaptations designed to reduce costs or improve quality and outcomes, such as varied adviser caseloads, online tools to supplement coaching, or a tutoring requirement. States and colleges may also adapt programs for certain populations, for example, by including cultural components designed to help students of color or by including features that may address the needs of nontraditional students.
MDRC is deeply committed to creating knowledge to encourage the expansion of SUCCESS beyond its initial states, and to inform that expansion. Lessons drawn from the project will be packaged and disseminated with the goal of building interest and enthusiasm among reform-minded colleges and state policy leaders who want to implement robust, evidence-based initiatives that can be adopted on a large scale and are financially sustainable.