By Janai Raphael, Graduate Assistant for Research and Data Analysis
Community colleges, which serve as the entry point into higher education for many low-income and first-generation students, are often troubled by dismal persistence and graduation rates. In response, many institutions, state agencies, and other stakeholders are investing their resources into interventions to improve community colleges’ postsecondary outcomes. These interventions employ a wide range of strategies and initiatives tailored to meet students’ needs; this range often results in varying impacts and results for participating students.
In this article, NCAN considers three documented approaches at the community college level.
ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs)
ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) launched in 2007 with the goal of graduating at least 50% of associate degree students at City University of New York (CUNY) colleges – a goal of doubling the graduation rate at the time. The program is offered at nine CUNY colleges, including both two- and four-year institutions, and provides students with wraparound services to improve their postsecondary outcomes.
Participating students are required to enroll full time while simultaneously enrolling in developmental education courses throughout their programs; students are also required to take winter and summer courses, if possible. In return, students receive tuition waivers, textbook assistance, and unlimited metro cards. Students also receive other direct academic supports, such as personalized advising, tutoring, career development services, and other assistance from program staff.
Overall, ASAP has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on its students. Across eight cohorts, ASAP students graduate at rates more than double the rates of nonparticipants with similar backgrounds (53.4% vs. 24.6%). While only 20.9% of non-ASAP students with developmental needs graduated, 47.8% of ASAP students with developmental needs did so in the same time period. ASAP students also experienced gains in credit accumulation, retention rates, graduation rates, and other key performance indicators. Evaluators also found financial benefits for New York taxpayers. For every dollar spent on ASAP, $3.50 returned to the state economy in tax revenue and decreased social services spending.
In 2015, the ASAP model was expanded to two other institutions in New York to begin serving students who are enrolled in bachelor’s programs. Higher education stakeholders across the country have also taken note of ASAP’s achievements and have replicated its model to better serve their students.
CUNY has partnered with MDRC and the Ohio Department of Higher Education to create ASAP-like programs at three community colleges in Ohio. Early findings have shown increases in full-time enrollment, persistence, and credits earned. Another ASAP replication was launched in California in fall 2018 and will expand to two other California community colleges by fall 2020.
iPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success)
iPASS is an initiative that focuses on supporting community colleges and four-year institutions through helping them integrate technology into their advising and student support services. iPASS technology is designed to “increase advising’s emphasis on a student’s entire college experience” by allowing academic advisers to help students through both academic and nonacademic challenges through cross-campus collaboration. Unlike ASAP and SUCCESS (discussed below), iPASS focuses solely on advising services.
To evaluate its impact, iPASS targeted students who had a low-to-moderate likelihood of persisting to the next academic year and were not already required to meet with an adviser. Participants were required to complete a career assessment and a survey detailing their challenges in and outside the classroom. Faculty members were also required to complete a survey to flag students at risk of failing their classes.
Advisers then held a mandatory 45-minute meeting with all students around a variety of nonacademic and academic topics and also reached out to students via email periodically throughout the semester. Students who were flagged by their professors were required to have an additional meeting with their adviser.
MDRC recently published the results of a formal evaluation of iPASS. The evaluation examined the iPASS implementation at multiple institutions, but just one community college was included, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. The results found that iPASS had a slightly negative effect on participants at MCCC. While control group students attempted an average 7.54 credits and earned 5.60 credits, iPASS students attempted 7.29 credits and only earned 5.31 credits.
Evaluators largely contributed the negative effect of iPASS to the registration hold that was placed on participants’ accounts and could only be removed after meeting with an adviser. The program did not have an effect on persistence, withdrawal rates, or course failure rates.
Advisers expressed concerns around the varying levels of information on students throughout the year and the lack of resources to support the program. However, the program did increase the number of advising sessions held with students and increased the outreach to students about academic issues.
SUCCESS (Scaling Up Community College Efforts for Student Success)
SUCCESS is a new college success program that launched across four states (California, Indiana, New Jersey, and Ohio) earlier this semester. The program targets traditionally underrepresented students at nine community colleges across these states. SUCCESS students are required to enroll full time and encouraged to enroll in winter and summer courses. Through participating in the program, students receive financial incentives, such as stipends for meeting with their advisers, and personalized coaching and advising.
While it is too early to evaluate its impact, the creation of SUCCESS was guided by more than 15 years of postsecondary research to ensure the use of the most effective practices. Leaders of SUCCESS, in partnership with MDRC, also intentionally partnered with state agencies to ensure the program’s alignment with long-term state postsecondary funding and priorities.
Each year community colleges provide an accessible and affordable pathway into higher education for millions of students. It’s critically important that we continue to explore the most effective practices and interventions to ensure students are equipped with the right resources and support to achieve postsecondary success.