Helmsley Charitable Trust Awards $3.7 Million to CUNY ASAP Program For ‘Helmsley Scholars’

November 5, 2009 | The University

The City University of New York has received a three-year, $3.7 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to expand its pioneering initiative, entitled Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which offers free tuition, small classes, convenient block schedules, academic and financial support to enable highly motivated community college students to complete their Associate degrees in three years or less.

The grant will fund expansion of ASAP at two CUNY community colleges, a random assignment study of ASAP, and matching support for the recently inaugurated ASAP Transfer Scholarship.

With the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ASAP was created to help highly motivated students earn their community college degree as quickly as possible, with a target of 50% graduating within three years.

“When we launched CUNY ASAP in 2007, it was to offer an option for highly-motivated students who must often juggle the responsibilities of work and family life along with school,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We’re working hard to level the playing field by providing community college students the opportunity to meet their educational goals; but we also know that there’s still additional work to be done. However, we’re encouraged that nearly a third of the students who were in the original cohort have graduated in two years, and we’re committed to doing even more to increase that number.

By easing some of the challenges – and often the financial obstacles as well – that can cause delays in completing a two-year degree, students are able to plan accordingly so they move along at a pace to meet their objectives, increase opportunities for employment, or continue their post-secondary work, while still being able to manage the other important aspects of their lives.”

As of August 2009, 352 students, or 31.1% of the original cohort, have graduated after only two years. A comparison group of similar students from fall 2006 had a two-year graduation rate of 11.4%. An additional 30% of students are on track to graduate in spring 2010, which would amount to a three-year graduation rate of at least 60%. Comparison group students had a three-year graduation rate of 24%.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein stated: “I wish to express my deepest appreciation to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for this generous grant. CUNY’s ASAP initiative has demonstrated remarkable success in improving students’ ability to graduate from our community colleges and advancing their personal and professional aspirations and this city’s workforce development needs. The Helmsley Trust’s generous assistance will enable CUNY to reach even more deserving students and to achieve a critical third-party evaluation of the program.”

The Chancellor also noted that Mayor Bloomberg recently called ASAP an important part of his new “Gateway to the Middle Class” community college initiative, pledging $27 million to expand the program over the next four years to serve an additional 2,000 students.

The Helmsley grant will support a new cohort of 150 students, designated Helmsley Scholars, who will enter into the ASAP program at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Kingsborough Community College in spring 2010. Helmsley Scholars will receive the same comprehensive offerings provided to current students, including tuition waivers for financial aid-eligible students, free use of textbooks, monthly Metrocards, and advisement, academic support and career development services. The Helmsley Scholars will be students who require developmental course work in one basic skills area (reading, writing or math) and are Pell eligible or have family income within 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

The spring 2010 Helmsley Scholars will be part of a five-year random assignment study conducted by MDRC, a highly regarded social policy research organization. Borough of Manhattan and Kingsborough community colleges will recruit a total of 300 students who will be randomly assigned into two groups. One group will receive all ASAP services, while a control group will receive services normally provided to regularly admitted students. Both groups will be tracked for three to four years to study ASAP’s impact on student outcomes. An additional 400 students will be recruited and randomly assigned for study purposes in fall 2010.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust funds are also supporting a Transfer Scholarship program this fall for high-achieving ASAP graduates matriculating into baccalaureate programs at four target CUNY senior colleges: Hunter, Baruch, Brooklyn, and Queens. The ASAP Transfer Scholarship Program will cover the balance between financial aid and tuition and advisement support services. Students may receive the scholarship for up to four semesters to allow them to complete their bachelor’s degrees with documentation of continued financial need and strong GPA. ASAP students are assigned a trained part-time advisor who meets with them monthly to support their transition to baccalaureate study and conduct long-term goal setting. The Transfer Scholarship Program was launched in June 2009 under a $190,000 grant from the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women.

ASAP was developed as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Commission for Economic Opportunity Agenda. It seeks to forge a new model for the education and advancement of highly motivated community college students and working adults who are prepared to complete a college degree. CUNY received three years of funding totaling $19.5 million from the Office of the Mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

Owing to a variety of demands related to employment, financial, family and other responsibilities, many community college students are unable to complete their Associate degrees in a timely manner. ASAP deals with this by providing select students with the academic, social, and financial support they need to graduate with an Associate in Arts or Associate in Applied Science degree in no more than three years.

A total of 1,132 students who were free from remediation needs in reading, writing and math were invited to join a pilot cohort in fall 2007 across all six CUNY community colleges in degree programs closely related to future employment prospects and transferability to four-year colleges.
While the spring 2010 ASAP students will have greater academic need than those in the 2007 pilot cohort, ASAP remains committed to its goal of graduating at least 50% of Helmsley Scholars within three years. In addition, more than 90% of ASAP’s two-year graduates have transferred to a four-year college to work towards a bachelor’s degree in fall 2009, most at CUNY senior colleges. Remaining graduates have entered the workforce, although many plan to continue their educations in the near future.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Trust, established in 1999, is administered by five trustees selected by Leona Helmsley as a continuation of Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley’s generous giving through their lifetimes. The trust supports a diverse range of organizations with a major focus on health and medical research, in addition to programs in human services, education and conservation. The trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective nonprofits. Earlier this year, the trust announced $136 million in grants to charitable organizations across the United States and elsewhere.

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