Panel Paper: An Experimental Evaluation of a Multifaceted, Long-Lasting Intervention for Community College Students

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 10:05 AM
Salon A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael Weiss, Susan Scrivener and Colleen Sommo, MDRC

The Problem:

In recent years there has been unprecedented national focus on increasing graduation rates for community college students.  Community colleges play a vital role in American postsecondary education. They enroll over one third of all college students nationwide and, because of their open admissions policies and low cost relative to most four-year institutions, are accessible to millions of adults who might otherwise lack the preparation or financial means to pursue higher education. Unfortunately, this open access does not always translate into academic success. A national study found that only a third of students who began at community colleges had obtained a degree within six years.

The Program:

Many reforms have been tried, but graduation rates remain stubbornly low. Reforms are often short-term and address one or a few barriers to student success. The City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), launched in 2007, is an uncommonly multifaceted and long-lasting program designed to help community college students graduate. ASAP requires students to attend college full time and provides a rich array of supports for up to three years, with a goal of graduating at least 50 percent of students in that time. Unlike many programs, ASAP aims to simultaneously address multiple potential barriers to student success and to address them over many semesters. The program model includes:

  • Some block-scheduled classes with other ASAP students for the first year of the program
  • An ASAP seminar for at least the first year that covers topics such as goal setting and academic planning
  • Comprehensive advisement
  • Tutoring
  • Career services
  • A tuition waiver that covers any gap between a student's financial aid and tuition and fees
  • Free MetroCards for use on public transportation, and
  • Free use of textbooks.

Research Design:

This study is a randomized field trial conducted at three CUNY community colleges with a sample of 900 low-income students in need of 1-2 developmental (remedial) education courses. Participating students were randomly assigned (by the researchers) to either receive the college’s regular services (control group) or to have the opportunity to join ASAP (program group).


ASAP’s early effects are noteworthy.  During students’ first semester, ASAP increased full-time enrollment by 11 percentage points and average number of credits earned by 2.1 credits.  During students’ second semester, ASAP increased overall enrollment by 10 percentage points and full-time enrollment by 21 percentage points. 

Over the last decade MDRC has conducted 15 experimental evaluations in community colleges. ASAP’s estimated impact on credits earned in the first semester is the largest MDRC has observed to date.  The second semester estimated impact on enrollment is the second largest MDRC has observed to date.  If ASAP generates positive changes for students over a longer timeframe, it will provide critical information on how much difference a long-lasting, multifaceted intervention can make for community college students.  Plans for expanding ASAP to serve more CUNY students are currently underway.