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Findings from RCT Grants

A Replication Randomized Controlled Trial of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) Measuring Degree Completion by Low-Income Community College Students in Ohio

This well-conducted RCT found that the program nearly doubled the rate of degree completion — from 19% in the control group to 35% in the treatment group — as measured three years after random assignment.

Grantee: MDRC. The study report is linked here.

Description of the Intervention: This study is a replication randomized controlled trial (RCT) of ASAP, as implemented by three Ohio community colleges. Originally developed by the City University of New York (CUNY), ASAP provides academic, personal, and financial supports to low-income students to help them earn an associate’s degree within three years. Core program components include (i) required full-time enrollment; (ii) a range of resources that ASAP students are required to use including a dedicated advisor who helps students with academic, social, and interpersonal issues, a career counselor, and (if needed) tutoring services; (iii) special class scheduling options to ensure that ASAP students secure the classes they need and that they take remedial classes (if needed) early in college; and (iv) financial supports such as tuition waivers, free textbooks, and a monthly financial incentive to assist with transportation or groceries. The program’s cost in Ohio is approximately $8,030 total per student over three years. [1] ASAP was found in an earlier well-conducted RCT at CUNY to substantially increase the rate of degree completion.

Study Design: The researchers randomly assigned 1,501 low-income students across three Ohio community colleges [2] to either a treatment group that was eligible to receive the program, or to a control group that was not (but had access their college’s usual services). Sample members averaged 23 years of age, and were 64% female, 35% Black, and 46% white. 34% were the first member of their family to attend college. The study measured college attendance and degree completion over a three-year period using administrative data from the study colleges and the National Student Clearinghouse. The study’s pre-registered primary outcome was degree completion three years after random assignment for (i) the full sample; and (ii) the subgroups of students with and without a need for remedial education.

Impact on the Primary Outcome: The program nearly doubled the rate of degree completion for the full sample, as measured three years after random assignment — from 19% in the control group to 35% in the treatment group. This difference was statistically significant (p<0.01) and nearly identical to that found in the earlier CUNY RCT at that study’s three-year follow-up. In both studies, the effect was driven almost entirely by completion of two-year associate’s degrees, rather than four-year bachelor’s degrees.

The program produced similarly large, statistically significant impacts for both pre-registered subgroups of students — namely, students with remedial education needs (for whom the degree completion rates were 16% in the control group versus 32% in the treatment group) and students without remedial education needs (for whom the degree completion rates were 28% in the control group versus 45% in the treatment group).

Study Quality. Based on a careful review, we believe the study was well-conducted and produced valid findings. [3]

[1] This total cost of $8,030 includes the direct cost of program services in Ohio ($5,521) plus the higher cost associated with treatment group students taking more classes than control group students ($2,510). For reference, the current cost of ASAP at CUNY is $10,200 total per student, which is lower than its initial, start-up cost ($16,000) during the CUNY ASAP RCT.

[2] Participating community colleges were Lorain Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

[3] For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by highly similar treatment and control groups), no sample attrition, and valid analyses.