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 Supporting community college students from start to degree completion: Long-term evidence from a randomized trial of CUNY's ASAP (Weiss et. al, 2019)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Weiss, M. J., Ratledge, A., Sommo, C., & Gupta, H. (2019).  Supporting community college students from start to degree completion: Long-term evidence from a randomized trial of CUNY's ASAP.  American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11(3), 253-97.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the effectiveness of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) at three City University of New York (CUNY) schools on cumulative credits earned and completion of a college degree. 

  • The study was a randomized control trial that used surveys and data from the CUNY Institutional Research Database and National Student Clearinghouse to compare the outcomes of students offered the ASAP program to a control group of students who were not offered the program.  

  • The study found that ASAP program participants earned significantly more college credits and were more likely to complete a college degree than students in the control group.   

  • This study receives a high evidence rating. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to ASAP and not to other factors. 

Intervention Examined

Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) Programs

Features of the Intervention

Historically, rates of degree attainment among community college students have been relatively low. In 2007, the City University of New York (CUNY), in conjunction with the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, developed the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) program in the hopes of improving degree attainment rates. The program aims to support community college students seeking associate’s degrees by addressing educational barriers and providing enhanced services. 

In this study, the program was implemented in three CUNY community colleges and included the following components: (1) a requirement to attend college full-time; (2) block-scheduled classes with other ASAP students for the first year of the program; (3) participation in an ASAP seminar that covers goal-setting, study skills, and academic planning for at least two semesters of the program; (4) free use of textbooks during the semester; (5) comprehensive advising from an ASAP adviser with a caseload of 60 to 80 students; (6) weekly tutoring for students in remedial courses or on academic probation; (7) career advising; (8) a tuition waiver that covered any gap between a student’s financial aid and tuition and fees; and (9) free monthly MetroCards for public transit within New York City.  

At the time of the study, students were eligible to participate in the program if they (1) were Pell Grant-eligible or had family income less than 200 percent of the national poverty level; (2) needed to take at least one developmental course; (3) held 12 or fewer credits and a 2.0 grade point average, or were newly enrolled students; (4) were New York City residents; (5) were willing to attend college full-time; and (6) were pursuing an ASAP-eligible major. Most majors were eligible for ASAP, although each participating school excluded certain majors—such as nursing, allied health sciences, and engineering science—because their requirements made graduating within three years challenging. 

Features of the Study

The study used a randomized control trial design. 903 consenting students were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, which could participate in ASAP, or the control group, which could not participate in ASAP but could access existing services at the schools. Students had an equal chance of being assigned to the treatment or control group. The study included two cohorts, one entering the program in spring 2010 and the other in fall 2010.  The study examined three of six CUNY community colleges implementing ASAP: Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Kingsborough Community College (KCC), and LaGuardia Community College (LGCC). The authors used students’ demographic information from a baseline information form, their transcript information from the CUNY Institutional Research Database, and enrollment and degree completion information from the National Student Clearinghouse. A statistical model compared the outcomes of treatment and control group members for the three years during ASAP program operation and the three years after exit from the ASAP program. 

The study analytical sample included 896 students who were predominantly female. The average age for participants was 21.5 years old. About 44 percent of the sample was Hispanic, 34 percent was African American, and 10 percent was white. Most participants had earned either a high school diploma (74 percent) or had their GED certificate (20 percent). About one-third of the sample were currently employed at the time of the survey. A third of the sample were returning students, 60 percent were newly enrolled freshman, and 7 percent were transfer students.

Findings

Education and Skill Gains 

  • The study found that there was no significant difference between students offered ASAP and students in the control group in terms of the number of terms enrolled.  

  • The study found that students offered ASAP earned about 7 more cumulative credits than students in the control group over the 12 semesters following random assignment. This difference was statistically significant.  

  • The study found that students offered ASAP were about 10 percentage points more likely to have earned any degree and 12 percentage points more likely to have earned an associate’s degree than students in the control group in the 12 semesters following random assignment, but were no more likely to have earned a bachelor's degree or higher in that time period.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study authors estimated multiple related impacts on outcomes related to education and skills outcomes. Performing multiple statistical tests on related outcomes makes it more likely that some impacts will be found statistically significant purely by chance and not because they reflect program effectiveness. The authors did not perform statistical adjustments to account for the multiple tests, so the number of statistically significant findings in these domains is likely to be overstated. 

The study estimates the effect of the offer of the ASAP services compared to those students who were not offered the program. While over 95 percent of treatment group members received some of the program services, readers should understand that there was variation in the amount of services treatment group members received. The authors also point out that all study sites were New York City community colleges, and that results may not be generalizable to other populations/locations. 

Causal Evidence Rating

This study receives a high evidence rating. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to ASAP, and not to other factors. 

Additional Sources

Scrivener, S., Weiss, M., & Sommo, C. (2012). What can a multifaceted program do for community college students? Early results from an evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for developmental education students. MDRC. https://www.mdrc.org/sites/default/files/full_625.pdf

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2022