Expanding a positive academic program
PSC activists joined CUNY Rising during its ASAP campaign for a tabling event at Kingsborough Community College. Union members conducted similar events at other CUNY campuses.
Anyone working in higher education knows that there is no silver bullet to improve academic success, but there are programs with proven positive results. One of those is CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), a nationally recognized model that has more than doubled community college graduation rates at CUNY. Now the CUNY Rising Alliance, a coalition of more than 30 labor, community and student organizations, is pushing to build upon that success and expand the program with its Fund CUNY ASAP campaign.
“No program that I know of better exemplifies elements of what this university needs in order for students to succeed,” PSC Legislative Representative Mike Fabricant said. “This is a program that understands that access and success is not just about free tuition. It’s also about MetroCards. It’s about books and it is about intensive counseling, advising and mentoring from faculty.”
This semester, CUNY Rising began a petition campaign, urging Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to make the program available to all CUNY students. CUNY Rising is also pushing for the expansion of ACE (Accelerate, Complete, Engage), an initiative for senior colleges modeled after ASAP. Currently, ACE is a pilot program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The petition was rolled out on November 14. So far, the campaign has collected almost 6,000 signatures, and it hopes to get many more across the five boroughs.
Hussein Abdul, an ASAP student at Bronx Community College, said that getting people to sign the CUNY Rising petition has been easy. “There’s no reluctance,” Abdul said. They say, “‘Of course, why wouldn’t I support this?’”
Bronx Community College currently offers ASAP to all eligible students in most majors.
ASAP and ACE provide textbook vouchers, one-on-one advisement, free unlimited MetroCards and tuition waivers for eligible students. Students have to be enrolled full-time, must be eligible for tuition at the resident rate and ASAP students who qualify for partial financial aid receive tuition waivers. With these supports in place for students, the programs deliver results – and ultimately save money.
ASAP’s most notable accomplishment is that it has more than doubled graduation rates, according to a 2017 CUNY report, “Significant Increases in Associate Degree Graduation Rates.” ASAP’s average community college graduation rate is 53.2 percent, while the graduation rate for a comparison group of students was 24.1 percent, the CUNY study found. The cost of ASAP is relatively modest and has significant fiscal benefits. The CUNY report cited a cost-benefit study done at Teachers College at Columbia University, which indicated that on average the cost of a three-year ASAP graduate leads to an average savings of $6,500 per graduate over those in the study’s comparison group of students.
A KNOWN PROGRAM
These findings have resulted in ASAP’s being nationally recognized for its significant accomplishments. The Obama White House singled out the program for its “promising” results, and it has been used as a model at community colleges in Ohio. At CUNY, ASAP has served 37,000 students and has been singled out by academic observers nationally and the academic press as one of the most successful community college initiatives.
“[ASAP] has consistently doubled the three-year graduation rate of participating students since its inception in 2007,” said Donna Linderman, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CUNY. “Rigorous evaluations of ASAP show that the right mix of financial resources, structured pathways and integrated support systems enable students to succeed.”
CUNY Rising is also advocating to expand the program so undocumented students can receive full tuition waivers. CUNY Rising is asking the city and the state to expand its support for ASAP and ACE. With a $170 million state allocation, the program’s services could be available to incoming freshman at CUNY’s senior colleges who are attending school full-time. CUNY Rising plans to advocate for the inclusion of part-time students in the future. The city, which is the major funder of CUNY community colleges, should support another 26,000 students. CUNY Rising recognizes that these expansions should not be at the cost of cutting other financial aid and opportunity programs.
Presently, State Senator Luis Sepúlveda has introduced Senate Bill 08913 in the state legislature that would amend education law and phase in increased support for both ASAP and ACE, appropriating $35.25 million for ASAP and ACE beginning in fiscal year 2019-2020 with 25 percent annual increases until both programs are fully funded by the state.
PSC members, along with CUNY students, have been gathering petition signatures and testifying to the CUNY Board of Trustees about the importance of expanding ASAP and ACE. At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, PSC Chapter Chair Dan Pinello developed an outreach strategy where representatives from different departments took the petition to their colleagues. PSC members at Kingsborough Community College tapped into already organized structures to promote the petition signing, created around the sanctuary movement to protect undocumented immigrants.
“Because we already had a sanctuary committee with a mailing list in place of Kingsborough activist [faculty and staff], I was able to ask professors to take this petition to their classrooms,” said Meg Feeley, an adjunct lecturer in the English department. “That conversation was already in existence.”
A PATH FORWARD
Feeley said ASAP’s structure makes it hard for a student to slip through the cracks. One of her current students is struggling in her class. But because he is an ASAP student, Feeley said he felt “respect” even though he is not a top performer. Feeley suggested that the student knew that people were looking out for him. He felt supported in relationship to his academic performance by Feeley and his ASAP advisor.
Other ASAP students said that support from the initiative made it easier for them to have a full college experience. Abdul said that because of ASAP support, he has been able to develop as a student leader. He can now boast on his resume that he was president of the Muslim Students’ Association, vice president of student government. In addition he is also a delegate to the University Student Senate.
“ASAP has given me the opportunity to do more than just attend classes. I have the time and resources to do all these extra things,” Abdul told Clarion. “So if I didn’t have these ASAP benefits, I would not be doing any of these things. I would probably be at work right now.”
The community groups who are part of the alliance are clear that these additional supports are not just a matter of policy but of equity.
“CUNY provided a path for me to become the first member of my family to graduate college and gain access to good-paying jobs. It does so every single year for low-income and predominantly immigrant families and families of color,” said Renata Pumarol, deputy director of New York Communities for Change. “The CUNY ASAP campaign is important for the communities we serve because it provides them with every tool they need in order to graduate. It’s not only a racial justice issue, it’s an economic justice issue.”
What is at the heart of this campaign is that according to those who have gone through ASAP and ACE these programs have been largely positive parts of the college experience – in short, students say the programs transform their lives.
For example, Rianna Figueroa, a first-generation college student at John Jay, said in a prepared statement for a recent CUNY Board of Trustees meeting that once she enrolled in ACE with the support of a tuition waiver, winter and summer scholarships, monthly MetroCards and textbook vouchers, she knew that she would not only attend college but graduate.
“When I got home and told my family that I had joined ACE, everyone in the room was moved to tears,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa added, “It was at that moment when my family realized that I could graduate with a bachelor’s degree.”