Testing the Accelerated Degree Program in Ohio

By Sonya Stinson

City University of New York has already reported success with this model. Now colleges, including three in Ohio, also are seeing it as a road to completion.

Editor’s Note: Yesterday’s post highlighted City University of New York’s successful completion program for students who start in remedial classes in community college. It is quickly becoming a model for colleges across the country, having demonstrated what can be accomplished when students are provided financial and academic support to reach their educational goals. In today’s post, we take a look at another state that is following the model.

The secret to designing a successful program of student services intended to raise completion rates may be in the delivery.

At least that’s the perspective of J. Michael Thomson, president of the Eastern Campus of Cuyahoga Community College, which, this fall, will become one of three Ohio community colleges to replicate an experimental model at City University of New York (CUNY) — a model that has garnered lots of attention for its impressive results.

As Inside Higher Education recently reported, CUNY students enrolled in the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) are nearly twice as likely to earn a degree as nonparticipants.

When ASAP officials decided to expand the program, the Great Lakes Higher Education Group became interested in funding the participation of an area college. The foundation and research company MDRC are providing a joint grant to fund the trial program, Thomson says. Lorain County Community College and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, along with the other three Cuyahoga campuses, also are trying it out.

Thomson believes some of Cuyahoga’s existing student services align well with the MDRC study’s recommendations for running a successful ASAP program.

“The real test for us,” Thomson says, “is the synergy of connecting these wraparound services to cohorted groups, versus basically turning large groups of students loose on services and saying, ‘Go get ‘em.’ ”

The accelerated degree program in Ohio

Cuyahoga administrators were looking for a new way to deliver student services in order to replace a system that some had described as making students “feel like a pinball in a pinball machine.”

“We flit them around from office to office, we try to do warm handoffs and we’re providing good service,” Thomson says. “But do we have one record that keeps track of it all? Do we coordinate those services in targeted fashions? Not so much.”

Thomson sees a lot to like in the results the ASAP model has produced. Besides the higher graduation rates, he’s also noted the fact that ASAP students at CUNY completed more credit hours in less time. He and other Cuyahoga officials would love to see more students enroll full time and take courses year-round, helping to boost graduation numbers within three years.

Cuyaghoga’s Eastern Campus is running a simpler version of ASAP than the other three campuses, with 40 students participating, matched by a control group of the same number. By contrast, Cuyahoga’s Western Campus, which is the largest, will have 250 in each group.

Since most of the student services offered by the ASAP program are already in place, the control group in the Cuyahoga trial will have access to the same services as the study group — they just won’t be part of a closely tracked cohort.

“They’re not going through blocked scheduling, they’re not getting phone calls with monthly appointments with a counselor and there’s no financial incentive, as there is in the ASAP program,” Thomson explains.

Thomson notes that CUNY administrators have been very generous about sharing tips for making the program work. Early in March 2015, Cuyahoga’s deans of academic and student services traveled to New York with several other staff members to participate in a consultation, and there are regular phone conversations devoted to strategizing the project.

“I’m very grateful that we’re a good fit and that we have good partners to help us in this new adventure,” Thomson says.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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