Helping Those Left Behind ASAP

January 22, 2007 | CUNY Matters Columns

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened a Commission for Economic Opportunity to recommend strategies to reduce poverty and increase pathways to financial success. Higher education must be a central partner in the fight integral to this campaign against poverty, and CUNY’s community colleges, in particular, must be the sites where low-income students can begin to build better, more stable futures. (En Espanol)

A timely graduation from college is the best means to a bright future, but too many community college students have not been able to complete the associate’s programs they enter. Nationwide, just 16 percent of community college students receive an associate’s degree within six years of beginning college. While some students transfer to baccalaureate programs before completing an associate’s degree, many do not.

CUNY is committed to helping every student achieve educational success, and, as a result of our work with the mayor’s commission and our own longtime efforts to address poverty issues, we are launching a creative new approach to community college education: A.S.A.P., which stands for Accelerated Studies in Associates Programs. This innovative model is linked to a primary purpose of community colleges—to prepare students for well-paying jobs from which both they and their surrounding communities benefit. A.S.A.P. is designed to enhance students’ ability to graduate in a timely manner with the skills that are required in today’s competitive marketplace.

Beginning this fall, 1,000 low-income students will take advantage of this innovative program at CUNY’s six community colleges. The goal is for 50 percent of the participants to earn an associate’s degree and gain employment or enter a baccalaureate program within three years, and for 75 percent to do so within four years. It is an ambitious target—and one that reflects our belief in students’ potential and our certainty that high-quality education is likely to improve their future.

A.S.A.P. emphasizes increased academic support services, mentoring, and peer interaction.

  • The program will recruit highly motivated low-income high school seniors and working or out-of-work adults, based on recommendations from counselors, teachers, community groups, and others. To ensure their readiness for college, those accepted will complete any necessary preparatory coursework before beginning the program.
  • Partici-pants will also get a head start on their college coursework through a summer component that includes paid tuition and a paid work experience. This will allow students to become familiar with college and work expectations, and ease the financial barriers that often prevent low-income students from participating in summer enrichment, extracurricular, or internship programs.
  • Once participants begin the program, they will, when possible, be placed in small cohorts within learning communities related to their career areas. Much of their academic work will be done within these supportive groups. Students will also work part-time in a field related to their area of study, such as the health, hospitality, retail, or legal professions. Each cohort will be assigned a full-time, experienced faculty advisor, a job developer, and tutors, who will work collaboratively to offer students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, the necessary support and guidance.

The A.S.A.P. model combines pre-

college preparation, full-time participation in a degree program, increased academic and peer support, and paid, relevant work experiences to create a seamless, cohesive academic environment. By integrating academic and work components, the program offers students the intellectual grounding and employment experiences that will increase their likelihood of attaining a degree and pursuing a future that promises financial stability and personal satisfaction. Those who complete the program will be in a stronger position, both academically and financially, to continue their education in the future, advancing on to baccalaureate work and beyond.

CUNY is uniquely positioned to address the debilitating, long-term effects of poverty in New York City, where the results of educational and economic impoverishment can be especially stark. We believe in the enormous potential of our community college students and in the expert abilities of our community college faculty and staff, and we look forward to helping all students create their own paths to success.