Evaluation of Part-Time Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL), a Replication of CUNY’s ASAP Program



Among first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students enrolled at two-year institutions, only about one-third receive a certificate or degree within three years, or 150 percent of the expected time to complete. For students who enroll part-time in college, graduation rates are even lower, and time-to-degree for students who do graduate is even longer. In two-year colleges, part-time enrollment is often more common than full-time enrollment: 63 percent of degree-seeking students at two-year institutions attend part time. Part-time enrollment is especially common among low-income students, students of color, students who are parents, adults, and others who juggle work and family responsibilities while in school. There is great need to learn “what works” for part-time students to help them accumulate credits and graduate.

Over the past 20 years, MDRC and other researchers have conducted studies showing mounting evidence that comprehensive student support programs can dramatically improve degree attainment outcomes for community college students. However, the evidence to date has focused only on students who can enroll full time. Perhaps the strongest example is the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has produced among the largest estimated effects on graduation rates: 18 percentage points at three years, over a control group mean of 22 percent. (The program continues to show improved graduation rates at the six- and eight-year marks.) MDRC conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the CUNY ASAP model implemented in three community colleges in New York City and a second RCT of the ASAP model in three community colleges in Ohio. The second RCT found similarly remarkable impacts, doubling students’ likelihood of graduating within three years—a rare instance where a program found to have exceptionally large effects in one study saw results replicated in a new context.

Lorain County Community College (LCCC) is one of the three colleges in Ohio to adapt, implement, and evaluate the ASAP model in partnership with CUNY and MDRC. LCCC has successfully sustained the program with additional non-study cohorts coming in every year since the ASAP Ohio Demonstration took place. Due to these unprecedented effects seen in the New York and Ohio ASAP programs, CUNY and MDRC launched the Part-Time Student Accelerating in Learning comprehensive program at LCCC, an effort to determine whether the ASAP model can be adapted for part-time students. In 2020-21, LCCC piloted Part-Time SAIL with 34 students and at present is continuing recruitment and program operation.

CUNY ASAP’s technical assistance team partners directly with institutions committed to replicating the ASAP model with a high level of fidelity. Please contact CUNY directly for more information at [email protected].

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Part-Time SAIL demonstration seeks to determine whether ASAP Ohio could be successfully implemented as a part-time program at LCCC and to confirm the positive academic impacts found in the evaluation of ASAP Ohio.

The Part-Time SAIL Demonstration provides the following integrated package of supports:

  • Student supports (enhanced advising or coaching, tutoring, and career services)
  • Financial supports (a scholarship that covers the gap between grant aid and tuition and fees, conditional monthly gas/grocery cards, and textbook vouchers)
  • Specialized course enrollment options (block-scheduled classes and student success seminars or orientations)

Most of the program components have a clear value to full-time and part-time students alike, such as advising and financial supports. In the original SAIL model, the full-time enrollment requirement pushed more students to attend full time and to accumulate more credits. To adapt the model for the part-time environment, students will work with advisors to identify a path to graduation within two years of joining the program by enrolling in at least 18 credits per year. Students will create a course map in partnership with advisors that takes into account the semesters where they can attend more classes and will be directed to take summer courses to maintain their academic momentum and stay on track. In addition, the program offers clear incentives to taking on more than six credits each semester: for example, students are able to get larger textbook vouchers for enrolling in more credits as well as extra incentives for reaching credit milestones.

LCCC has set the following eligibility criteria for students:

• Degree-seeking

• Good academic and financial standing with the college

Of note, LCCC expects that this will serve a majority adult student population, defined as age 25+. At LCCC, 81 percent of adult students attend part time, and when approached about full-time SAIL, they have often been more reticent than younger students to attempt a full-time load.

Additionally, the PT SAIL study will recruit participants from LCCC’s Fast Track to Employment Certificate program. LCCC is strategically focusing on programs that support an emerging population of adult part-time learners who are choosing stackable, short-term certificate programs. To this end, LCCC has built out Fast Track to incorporate SAIL supports, establishing a longer-term relationship with students to develop a plan beyond the initial certification towards an associate’s degree.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The study uses a random assignment design to estimate the causal effects of the opportunity to participate in the program. Eligible students were randomly assigned to either the program group, whose members are eligible to receive program services for up to four years, or to a control group, whose members are eligible for the college’s standard services. The evaluation also includes an implementation study. The data analyzed will include quantitative data, such as transcript and administrative data, and qualitative data, such as interviews with faculty and staff members.