In 2007, with support from the Mayor’s Office and $19.5 million in funding from the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) was launched, and 900 students from six CUNY community colleges joined the program with the ambitious goal of earning their Associate Degree in three years or less—three times faster than the national average.
Celebrating ASAP’s first graduating class, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and others instrumental to ASAP’s growth joined the ASAP students, their families and friends at Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Theater 1.
The theater’s tiered rows of seats were full, and the celebratory mood well deserved. ASAP has not only reached its initial goal, that goal was exceeded—with fifty-three percent of the students graduating in three years or less.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez opened the ceremony, congratulating all the graduates—with a special call-out to BMCC’s ASAP students, who cheered loudly, in response. CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson spoke of “promises you made to yourself, when you enrolled in a CUNY ASAP program, and promises the CUNY ASAP program made to you.” Senior University Dean & Dean of the School of Professional Studies John Mogulescu, also involved in designing the ASAP model said, “ASAP is a wonderful collaborative effort at every level, and has been a testament to the theory that when you set high expectations and provide supports, students excel.”
CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein recounted the program’s inception. “A few years ago, I lamented the fact that too many community college students are not graduating,” he said, “or graduating on time.” He spoke of meeting with Mayor Bloomberg about the problem, and CUNY’s proposal on how to address it. “I said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I have an idea,’ and he listened and put the resources for ASAP in place through the Center for Economic Development.” Chancellor Goldstein, who referred to Bloomberg as the City’s “Education Mayor,” also acknowledged the support of NYC Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.
Mayor Bloomberg told the ASAP graduates, “You are the future of this country. Everyone tells you these things, but the truth is, you really are the future. The impact of what you’ve done will change your lives but will also change the direction this country is going.” He asserted his commitment to making education “affordable and accessible to as many New Yorkers as possible,” and told of his goal to graduate 120,000 people through the CUNY system by the year 2020. “We invest in water tunnels, bridges, a new Westside subway, but we also need to invest in the intellectual capital of our country,” he said. “A significant percentage of people who get PhDs started out at community colleges.”
ASAP graduate from BMCC, Ebony Childs spoke of the program from a student’s perspective. “The mayor of our city understands that sometimes life happens, and some of us just need additional support to catch up,” she said. “ASAP is for students like me who want to be in a big institution yet have the feeling of attending a small college; students like me who need guidance from caring counselors, who need additional financial assistance and textbooks to attend classes each semester.” Childs, who will be transferring to Stanford University in Fall 2010, also thanked her ASAP counselor Chris Allen, and BMCC’s ASAP Director Lesley Leppert. “I was supported by my peers, my advisors, and my professors,” she said.
Meeting challenges with the right support
“It can be extremely challenging for community college students to balance a college schedule with the demands of work and family,” said Chancellor Goldstein. “ASAP helps eliminate these stresses by providing students with the academic, social, and financial support they need to graduate with an Associate in Art, Science or Applied Science Degree in no more than three years.”
ASAP students work in small, connected groups—studying and accessing campus resources together—and take advantage of scheduling options enabling them to attend classes while maintaining work and family responsibilities.
“We believe that by providing students with resources such as free books, free transportation, reduced tuition, and sustained strategic counseling, ASAP could double their graduation rate,” said Hostos Community College President Félix V. Matos Rodriguez, “and the most recent program evaluation shows that it did.”
A full-time advisor guides each student’s progress, counseling him or her on career tracks and providing assistance with the application process for transferring to a four-year bachelor’s program.
“The core of ASAP’s approach—to provide personalized academic support and student support through the Student Manager—has had such a powerful effect on the ASAP program that I became inspired to use the model as a keystone in our recently launched, college-wide Freshman Academies,” said Queensborough Community College President Eduardo Marti.
“From day one, we dedicated key staff to our ASAP program,” said BMCC President Antonio Pérez. “Moreover, our students have thrived through ASAP’s academic support, advisement and career services, while our staff has expanded its ability to provide those services through professional development on issues such as supplemental instruction and collaborative learning.”
With these supports in place, 64 percent of the ASAP graduates have already moved on to a CUNY four-year college. The program’s track record has led Mayor Bloomberg to devote an additional $6.5 million to ASAP, which will also benefit from a three-year, $3.7 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to fund a five-year research study of 900 low-income students who require developmental course work.
That study, led by MDRC—a leading social research and policy organization—was key in obtaining an additional $1.1 million grant from the Robin Hood Foundation. In addition, the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women will provide scholarships for high-achieving ASAP two-year graduates who matriculate to CUNY senior colleges.
ASAP students learn to build their own success
Javier Gonzalez earned his associate degree at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in only one and half years—while maintaining a 3.4 GPA. “ASAP really developed my skills, so I’m doing well now at Baruch College,” said Gonzalez, who also won BMCC’s Out-in-Two scholarship. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but at BMCC I found that I was very good in business communications. It helped me decide what I wanted to do in my four-year program.”
Queensborough Community College graduate Fatima Nisa Ali earned the ASAP Transfer Scholarship, the Queens College Transfer Scholarship, and the Robert D. Crozier Memorial Award for excellence in literature and writing. She was also part of a service learning project at a homeless shelter. “Having an advisor who you could go to when you are undergoing stress is very helpful,” she said. “You feel you are not alone. I am still in contact with my adviser. Now that I am in a four-year school, I find it easier to handle things on my own.”
A mother of two—one of whom is disabled—Carolina Bonilla majored in Business Management at Hostos Community College, where she made the Dean’s List, and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. “The ASAP program was a life-changing experience,” she said. “It gave me a laptop so I cold do my work,there was tutoring before school; they gave me a Metrocard so there was no excuse to miss a class. There was so much support it was like a close family. It opened my eyes to what I could do, after failing at other opportunities in my life.”
Why ASAP matters
According to a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Employment and the Workforce, of the 47 million jobs that will be created in the 10 years, 14 million will require two-year degrees. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person with a two-year degree in 2007 earned $10,759 more per year than someone with just a high school diploma.
“This unique model,” said Kingsborough Community College President Regina Peruggi, “…can be transformative in not only accelerating graduation and increasing the number of graduates, but also in easing the transfer to a four-year college and the transition into the workforce.”
ASAP is managed in partnership with the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity, which works with City agencies to design and implement evidence-based initiatives aimed at poverty reduction.
“The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs is one of the Center for Economic Opportunity’s early successes,” said the Center’s Executive Director Veronica White. “Working together with the City University of New York, we have been able to demonstrate the strength of this program model and have developed an evidence base that we look forward to sharing with our colleagues nationwide. We are pleased with the program’s outcomes, and wish graduates the best of luck.”
Just as ASAP is a model for community colleges across the country, it serves as a model within the CUNY colleges, themselves. “We are looking at data to extract best practices and lessons learned in order to maximize the effectiveness of such interventions and to integrate those practices into our other programs,” said Bronx Community College President Carolyn Williams.
“ASAP’s investment is paying huge dividends and provides important insights into what’s needed to help students keep on track toward graduation,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow.