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Becoming college-ready: Early findings from a CUNY Start evaluation (Scrivener 2018)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Scrivener, S., Gupta, H., Weiss, M. J., Cohen, B., Cormier, M. S., & Brathwaite, J. (2018). Becoming college-ready: Early findings from a CUNY Start evaluation. New York: MDRC.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective is to examine the impact of the CUNY Start program on community college students’ enrollment rates, college readiness, and credits attempted and earned.
  • The study used a randomized controlled trial that examined data obtained from CUNY student transcripts, the CUNY Administrative Data Warehouse, and Start applications.
  • The study found that CUNY Start participants were significantly more likely to enroll in college and become college-ready by the end of the program than students in the control group.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it is a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to CUNY Start, and not to other factors.

Intervention Examined

The CUNY Start Program

Features of the Intervention

In 2009, the City University of New York (CUNY) began implementing CUNY Start, which targets incoming community college students who are in need of remedial math, reading, and writing courses. The program delays enrollment in a degree program for one semester, and during that time provides intensive instruction in the areas in which developmental education is required. CUNY Start allows students to complete their developmental coursework in one semester, but the students do not earn course credits. Students in the CUNY Start program also receive other services, including advising, tutoring, and a weekly seminar that teaches skills they need to succeed in college. Students pay $75 for the program and do not use financial aid. Developmental education students who do not to participate in the CUNY Start program may enroll in both developmental education and college-level courses, while the CUNY Start students are only able to enroll in CUNY Start developmental education courses.

Features of the Study

The study was a randomized controlled trial conducted at four CUNY community colleges (Borough of Manhattan Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and Queensborough Community College). Of the 3,835 eligible students who consented to participate, 2,997 students were randomly assigned to the treatment group and 838 were assigned to the control group. Students in the treatment group could choose to participate in program activities. Using CUNY student transcripts, the CUNY Administrative Data Warehouse, and CUNY Start applications, the authors conducted statistical models to examine differences between the groups. Outcomes included enrollment, college readiness (defined as eligibility to enroll in at least one college-level course in math, reading, or writing), and college-level credits attempted and earned (does not include developmental courses).

Findings

Education and skills gain

  • The study found a significant impact of CUNY Start on enrollment. During the program semester, 89% of CUNY Start students were enrolled at a CUNY college compared to 79% of control group students. The semester following CUNY Start implementation, 69% of CUNY Start students were enrolled at a CUNY college compared to 64% of control group students.
  • The study found that program participation significantly increased college readiness with 38% of CUNY Start students being college ready in math, reading, and writing compared to 13% of control group students.
  • During the program semester, control group students attempted, on average, 3 more college-level credits and earned 2.4 more credits than program group students.
  • The semester following CUNY Start implementation, the program group students were attempting to earn 7 credits whereas control group students were attempting to earn approximately 5.2 credits. This difference was statistically significant.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The CUNY Start program requires a considerable amount of class time to be dedicated to developmental education. This may be a factor to the program’s success, yet it may not be practical to expect other students to devote the required amount of time in a single semester to courses that will not earn credits.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it is a well-implemented randomized controlled trial with low attrition. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the CUNY Start, and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2020

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