This blog post was originally published by the National College Attainment Network.
Community colleges meet a crucial need for today’s students who are entering a labor market that increasingly demands postsecondary credentials. But community college graduation rates remain stubbornly low. As affordable, open-access institutions, community colleges can be a pathway to economic mobility for students—but there are financial, academic, and personal barriers to college completion.
Studies show that comprehensive student support programs, which combine high-touch, proactive advising with full-time enrollment, financial assistance, and other supports, result in higher graduation rates for community college students. But the evidence around their impacts on long-term earnings is relatively limited.
A new study conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, finds that students in three Ohio community colleges that offered comprehensive supports based closely on the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (CUNY ASAP) increased graduation rates by 53 percent and increased earnings by 11 percent. The substantial impacts of these Ohio programs—launched in 2015 and located at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Lorain County Community College—further bolster the evidence supporting the proven-effective ASAP model.
What does a program modeled after ASAP look like? At Lorain County Community College, students participating in the Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program enjoy a wide range of services that address multiple barriers—whether financial, academic, or personal—that could slow progress toward a degree. For instance, SAIL students are required to meet regularly with their advisors and enroll full time to maintain momentum toward a degree. In return, they receive a scholarship to cover any gap between financial aid and tuition, textbook vouchers, and monthly gas/grocery gift cards to defray the costs of their education.
The ASAP model is highly effective and can be successfully implemented outside of New York City. In fact, this model has produced positive impacts on student outcomes in a variety of geographic locations and contexts across the U.S. The ASAP model was designed and implemented by CUNY, where it initially saw dramatically positive effects in its very large, urban community college system. These new Ohio findings mirror those—despite differences in geographic settings, institutional characteristics, student demographics, and programmatic supports. Similarly, other replications of the ASAP model—including one at Westchester Community College, which is in a suburban location, and a baccalaureate version of the model named Accelerate, Complete, and Engage at seven CUNY colleges—have shown promising early results for academic outcomes. Furthermore, the ASAP model is cost-effective. While implementing the multi-faceted program requires an upfront investment, it has been found to reduce the cost per degree.
These new findings suggest that programs using comprehensive approaches to student success could have long-term economic benefits. Although there has long been ample evidence about how such programs can improve academic outcomes, the new findings from Ohio provide a promising data point that comprehensive approaches can lead to higher earnings and, ultimately, improved economic mobility.