- Three community colleges in Ohio successfully implemented a bundle of supports targeting low-income students that doubled graduation rates and increased credit accumulation, mimicking a successful program from the City University of New York (CUNY), according to an MDRC report.
- The Ohio initiative used a combination of financial and academic assistance, including "enhanced" advising, requirements to take developmental courses early, dedicated staffing, a consolidated schedule, tuition and textbook assistance, and full-time and summer enrollment.
- Participating students earned two credits per semester more than those in the control group. That contributed to faster degree completion, with 19% of participants earning a degree or credential in two years as compared to 8% of the control group.
The ASAP program brings together strategies that have been proven to enhance student success.
For instance, students in the Ohio program were required to meet with low-caseload advisers twice a month in the first semester before switching to a meeting frequency that depended on their success and need throughout the rest of the three-year program. A report this fall from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation indicated that such support in the first year at two-year institutions was critical to getting students on the path to fulfilling careers.
A recent Brookings Institution report on community college completion rates recommends lower student-to-adviser ratios and more easily accessible and individualized support. Another study, this time focusing on first-generation student success, had similar recommendations, including cohort-based programs and mentorship opportunities.
The ASAP program emphasizes career development assistance, which is increasingly being explored at other community colleges. However, data from Gallup and Strada Education Network show that four in 10 students have never visited the career services office at their college or used any of the related online resources. Of those who did, the most popular uses were to create or update a resume (60%) and to get advice about potential career or job options (57%).
In addition to a tuition waiver, the Ohio implementation of ASAP also gave students money to put toward non-tuition costs such as textbooks and other living expenses like gas and groceries. Although free college efforts have been connected to student success, the programs often catch flak for leaving out non-tuition costs such as living expenses, which can make attending college cost-prohibitive.
The ASAP initiative also encourages students to quickly complete remedial coursework, as those classes can set students back financially and academically.
Replicating regionally successful programs elsewhere can be a challenge, according to the MDRC report. It notes that the Ohio colleges were largely successful in doing so. "[T]he Ohio demonstration provides evidence that the model can work in a different context and with a different student population," according to the report. It also explained that more students in the Ohio version (roughly half of participants) were "nontraditional" as compared to the CUNY version (about one-third).