Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Community Colleges Have Abysmal Graduation Rates. Here’s How to Change That

April 9, 2015
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Community Colleges Have Abysmal Graduation Rates. Here’s How to Change That
CUNY's ASAP program provides students with a range of support to help them graduate within three years. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
CUNY gives low-income students a better chance at success.

Community college improves students’ lives — for those who make it to graduation, that is.

The sad reality for many, however, is that they’ll drop out along the way. Only one out of every five students will receive their associates degree within three years, one year past the expected time. After five years, graduation rates rise only to a paltry 35 percent.

“With graduation rates that low, community colleges can be dead ends rather than gateways for students,” says Susan Dynarski, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “Graduation rates are low in part because community colleges can’t exclude poorly prepared students. Unlike selective schools, they are required to take anyone who walks in the door, and they have to work harder to get those students to graduation.”

A program at the City University of New York (CUNY) is working directly with low-income students to boost their success. Since 2007, Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, has reached more than 6,400 students, providing them streamlined access to all of CUNY’s resources. They’re hooked up with advisors and tutors, have early access to enroll in popular courses and receive funds for a metro pass, textbooks and any additional costs not covered by financial aid.

The costs of the program are steep — $5,400 a year per student, much higher than the $3,300 tuition — but backers say it’s well worth the expense. A randomized study released this year found ASAP nearly doubled graduation rates.
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