PSC Testifies about CUNY's Accelerated Study in Associate Program

ADesolaCityCouncil031811.jpgOn Tuesday, December 13, 2011, PSC Secretary Arthurine DeSola testified about CUNY's Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) at an over sight hearing hosted by the Higher Education Committee of the New York City Council. Here is her testimony:

Testimony of Arthurine DeSola, Secretary
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
Before the New York City Council
Higher Education Committee

Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) at CUNY
Oversight Hearing

December 13, 2011

On behalf of the 25,000 City University of New York (CUNY) faculty and staff represented by the PSC, I wish to begin by thanking Higher Education Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and the other members of the Higher Education Committee for holding this oversight hearing on the Accelerated Study in Associate Program (or ASAP).

Over the last five years, ASAP has successfully demonstrated that substantial gains can be realized in the retention, graduation and transfer rates with targeted reforms and significant additional resources. Among other benefits, ASAP students have their tuition covered and receive free books, Metrocards, laptops and assistance in getting paid internships.

The PSC strongly supports expansion of the program which is scheduled to grow in size to 4,000 students from the 1,338 student currently enrolled. However as the Council considers supporting this expansion, it would be worthwhile to examine the specific features of ASAP and to consider how the benefits of additional financial supports, small class-size and much enhanced academic counseling and advising could be extended to more students.

Here are additional aspects that we would urge you to consider.

First, ASAP is selective. Students must apply and be accepted into the program. ASAP has expanded recently to include students with some developmental needs, but those who require more than two remedial courses are not accepted. This means that at Bronx Community College, for example, more than a quarter of entering freshman are categorically ineligible for ASAP. For these students who arrive underprepared and are not eligible for ASAP, there should be a program with equivalent resources.

Second, ASAP in its initial phase focused on a limited number of majors leading to Associate degrees in specific careers. We appreciate the reasons the program was designed in this way given its origins as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity. However, the majority of ASAP graduates intend to go on to a 4-year degree immediately following graduation – and attend full-time if they are able. We would hope that with expansion, the university will add other courses of study which are readily transferable to a 4-year degree program including, for example, computer science, engineering and the social sciences.

Third, ASAP advisors have a caseload limited to 80 students who they see at least twice per month. The program provides for “intrusive” counseling – that is advisors and faculty have the responsibility and resource of time to reach out to students when they fall behind or miss classes. Classes are limited to 25 students so faculty are also able to mentor individual students. ASAP students also have access to career counseling which includes paid internships – a level of service which would benefit all students.

By contrast, the 90,000 current community college students who are not in the ASAP program depend on counselors with caseloads of between 300 and 400 students. The majority of students attend classes which often have closer to 35 or 40 students, and they have much more limited access to tutoring services or personal attention from career counselors. In a survey the union did in 2007, we found that there was only one licensed mental health counselor for every 2,300 community college students. As enrollments have continued to increase and state and city budgets have been cut, the numbers of faculty, staff and other personnel have been stretched to the limit at CUNY community colleges.

At the hearing in October, Dr. Donna Linderman testified that CUNY receives an extra $5,700 more per FTE student above the basic appropriation of $10,602, or $16,302 total. (Please see note below.) She indicated that it is anticipated that CUNY will be able to capture greater economies of scale when it expands ASAP enrollment to 4,000 and reduce the additional cost per student to approximately $3,600. Even at this reduced amount, we note that ASAP will have about a third more funding than is provided in the current budget for the general student body.

It is important that ASAP get the resources it needs to grow. But ASAP’s success also highlights the glaring deficits in what is available to the majority of CUNY community college students. ASAP shows that CUNY students can graduate in higher numbers and more quickly if they have adequate financial support. If they are able to go to school fulltime and have access to full-time faculty and staff in sufficient numbers who, in turn, have the time to teach, mentor and support them, they will also succeed. To quote Sharon Persinger, Math professor and PSC chapter chairperson at Bronx Community College, “There is no substitute for having a student advised regularly by the same person who knows the student, understands the student’s program, and wants the student to succeed.”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning.