News: College Access & Success

College Success Lessons from Graduate NYC

Wednesday, April 11, 2018  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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“Finding innovative ideas is challenging,” is the partial conclusion of a recent report on the Graduate NYC (GNYC) College Completion Innovation Fund (CCIF). The fund tries to identify practices that are new to New York City's college completion sector, but many of the grant proposals it's received did not seek to implement new ideas. "For example, a significant number of projects used a fairly common model to support students in cohort-based programs leveraging case managers.”

Despite the difficulty of finding new and innovative ideas for promoting students’ postsecondary persistence and completion, the report does note that “the CCIF can play a role in supporting the sector in learning the necessary skills that can lead to the development of stronger project plans.” There are still lessons we can learn from the fund’s grantees.

Graduate NYC formed in 2010 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is a collaborative effort “dedicated to significantly increasing college completion rates throughout New York City.” Its partners include NCAN member the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York (CUNY), and the Office of the Mayor. The CCIF is a collaborative fund focused exclusively on college retention and completion in New York City. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation offered GNYC to start up the CCIF by offering a 1:1 matching grant of up to $500,000. The fund raised $1.3 million from nine funders, and these funds have driven two Request For Proposal cycles.

The CCIF makes grants to “organizations seeking to pioneer a new method of practice within the New York City college completion realm” in the areas of “summer melt” (discontinued for the second grant cycle), remediation, persistence, and two- to four-year transfers. (There is plenty more on the RFP and grantmaking processes in the report.)

The CCIF’s grants cover a wide area between “traditional” college success work and structural changes to institutions and stakeholders that aim to improve students’ postsecondary outcomes. To date the CCIF has made seven grants:

  • Guttman Community College implemented Starfish, “a technology-based student retention and engagement solution.” After the second year of implementation, “all advisors have integrated Starfish into their regular practice, tutors and peer mentors are using Starfish to conduct online appointment scheduling, [and] advisors use Starfish to create success plans to improve support for students on academic probation.”
  • Hostos Community College scaled two remedial interventions “designed to improve student retention rates, address their developmental needs, and bolster their success in more challenging courses.” The first “uses weekly peer-led study sessions to improve student retention and success within targeted courses across disciplines that have historically had high rates of drop/fail/withdrawal,” while the second uses three-hour weekly tutorials along with online tutorials and other supports to help students who have taken remedial classes multiple times. Preliminary findings are encouraging: Students who received the Supplemental Instruction intervention were 50 percent more likely to attain a C or better, and their incomplete rate was less than half that of students who did not receive the intervention. In the following years, 74 percent of students who received the intervention earned a C or better, compared to 46 percent of students who did not.
  • NYC Outward Bound Schools received a grant to expand its “To & Through College Initiative,” specifically to fund “an advisement intervention called CUNY Crew.” CUNY Crew is for students who are entering a CUNY community college and are not receiving support from another program. Participants “met weekly with a counselor and produced a series of videos on growth mindsets and success in college, designed to help future Outward Bound alumni entering CUNY.” Outward Bound also engaged Signal Vine for a texting initiative to 1,350 high school seniors and recent alumni. Signal Vine engagement was over 60 percent for two years, and of the 38 students who engaged in CUNY Crew, 95 percent persisted to their second postsecondary year.
  • Bottom Line, an NCAN member that we have profiled often, also received a CCIF grant. The three-year grant is going toward “adapting and innovating its current program model in order to support transfer students for the first time.” During the first year of implementation, Bottom Line created “a two- to four-year transfer student pipeline with the support of CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) and LaGuardia Community College, and Queens College and John Jay College have signed on as partner senior colleges.” Additionally, Bottom Line has “developed a modified curriculum to specifically support transfer students and is currently supporting its first fall cohort of approximately 30 students, with another cohort being added for the spring 2018 semester.” For more on Bottom Line’s model and successes, consult NCAN’s case study.
  • The City College of New York’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Studies received a one-year grant to replicate Project Win-Win. Using Project Win-Win, the school “recovers degrees not obtained by working to identify, re-engage, and support students who are fewer than 12 credits away from graduation but have abandoned their studies.” Specifically, the college changed its graduation process so that all eligible students were automatically signed up for graduation while “notifying those students who were not eligible, referring them to advisors, and automatically listing them as preparing for graduation the following semester.” The project also helped the school digitize academic records, “which means that graduation checks are performed online, allowing them to be conducted earlier in the academic year as well as more quickly and efficiently. This advanced notice allows students to resolve any issues with their records in time to graduate.” Finally, City College is using the grant to improve the relationship between advisement in the core curriculum and advisement by department chairs and faculty in specific majors, thus organizing a more cohesive effort to ensure that students complete core requirements before pursuing their majors more comprehensively. This is an attempt to address the finding that more than 50 percent of students eligible to graduate in one semester had neglected to take a course that should have been completed within their first two years of college.
  • Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation is using a CCIF grant to ”integrate targeted counseling to support their students in successfully transferring from two-year to four-year colleges.” The work will build on Cypress Hills’ extant peer mentor program.
  • Young Women’s Leadership Network received a three-year grant to implement a project called “The Closer,” which is loosely based on City College’s Project Win-Win. Through this project, the network aims to “re-engage several hundred program alumni who have left college with the equivalent of six or more semesters’ worth of credits and provide them the necessary support to return to college and complete their bachelor’s degrees.” The project has already re-engaged 50 students, and the network is categorizing the obstacles students face in returning to complete their bachelor’s degrees to inform its other programs.

NCAN recently announced grants to 12 member programs to support the initiation or expansion of college success programs. These grants are made possible through the support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. These CCIF grants may inspire NCAN members to explore new pathways and programs for college completion for their students. Even if these initiatives take place at higher education institutions or within K-12 districts, community-based organizations can form new partnerships or encourage existing partners to take on these critical lines of work.