New evidence shows that programs that enable community college students to attend full-time dramatically increases graduation rates. As reported recently In the Atlantic Monthly and New York Times, the Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) at NYC community colleges has doubled or tripled rates.
The key is to keep students in college full-time. While this is the model for baccalaureate education, at community colleges, most students attend part-time and many drop out for periods of time. This delays their completion of a degree and, in many cases, results in never finishing.
Although students at community colleges have a number of barriers, primarily financial, that prevent full-time attendance, as the ASAP initiative shows, those impediments can be overcome. Students who sign up for the program are given an advisor who meets with them regularly and tracks their progress. Students must attend full-time in the fall and spring semesters. Cost of full-time college is not a barrier: If the student cannot afford the full-time tuition, the college waives the deficit. Moreover, students are encouraged to take classes in the summer, increasing their academic progress. According to Donna Linderman, University Associate Dean for Student Success Initiatives, City University of New York, 79% of ASP students are enrolled in the summer with costs paid by the college.
How is this different from how community college students are now treated? At present, federal financial aid covers the fall and spring semesters. The archetype for baccalaureate education is designed to serve the children of well-off families: go to school for 9 months, take the summer off to travel, or work possibly in the family business or in a job obtained through family or college contacts.
But the lives of the great majority of community college students who come from low social-economic status families are markedly different. These students work yearlong either part or full-time because their parent or parents cannot afford to support them. Going to college year round is more consistent with their circumstances and allows them to complete more credits in a shorter period of time. This extra time is especially important because most community college students have to take additional academic work, remedial or so-called developmental courses – to make up for academic deficiencies. ASAP solves that problem by funding summer attendance even if governmental financial aid is not available.
Not unexpectedly, ASAP comes with a cost, $3900 per student per year according to both the Atlantic and New York Times articles. In the community college world this is a big number considering this is on top of the $9800 cost of attending a community college in New York City, half coming from student tuition and half from state and city support.
However, that investment pays huge dividends in the ability of students to complete their degrees.