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The Power of Fully Supporting Community College Students

Community college graduation rates are abysmal, with barely 20 percent of first-time, full-timers obtaining an associate’s degree in three years. Would intense support in the form of tuition waivers, free use of textbooks, public transit passes, assured access to advisors, career/employment services, and tutoring make a difference? An new report by MDRC revisits just this question in its freshly released follow-up evaluation of the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

Early study results showed that ASAP participants were almost twice as likely to graduate in three years than similar students without such support. Given three more years, non-ASAP students close the gap a bit, but ASAP still yields a 10 percentage-point increase in graduation rates. The findings are large, both in terms of what one might the support to yield based on existing research, and set against the dismal baseline graduation rates. MDRC estimates that the program cost CUNY $14,000 per student over a three-year period and reports that CUNY is expanding it to 25,000 students.

MDRC’s Himani Gupta concludes, “Policymakers and community colleges around the country can draw on the lessons of CUNY ASAP to help more students graduate and to help them graduate more quickly.” Many community colleges have already moved on the early results of the evaluation, but it’s important to note that even a model program like ASAP leaves huge challenges and questions on the table. Namely, how can community colleges afford to support students at this level? And how can community colleges better support part-time students, or full-time ones for whom ASAP support is insufficient?