New Efforts Speed Remedial Students’ Progress

In a comprehensive response to the surge of underprepared high school graduates who are enrolling in CUNY’s community colleges, the University is broadening efforts not only to support current and incoming students who need remediation, but also to boost the academic and learning skills of high school students.

The University’s hallmark program for incoming community college freshmen —ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) — has already proven that it can move even remedial students far more quickly to associate degrees and into baccalaureate programs than standard remedial courses.

Another success story is CUNY Start, an intensive immersion program which, prior to matriculation, offers underprepared high school graduates the writing, reading, math and study skills they need to succeed in community college and beyond.

And with a relatively new effort called At Home in College, CUNY is deepening its relationship with the city Department of Education by providing remedial and college-readiness instruction to students while they are still in high school. It complements two longstanding high school collaborations, College Now, which offers college-credit-bearing courses to high school students, and CUNY-run Early College High Schools, which enable high school students to earn college credit and even associate degrees.

The University’s latest thinking about remediation comes from an Office of Academic Affairs special task force on remediation. “The problem CUNY faces is how best to accelerate developmental education for the vast number of students who need it — more than 15,000 last fall,” the task force wrote in its August report to Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Lexa Logue.

Two key notions underlie the University’s thrust. First, as Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has often said, “a degree matters” and the University needs to support students in earning diplomas as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. That means conserving their limited financial aid for credit-bearing courses, rather than spending it on noncredit remedial ones. Second, it means encouraging them to attend full time, if possible, so they can finish their work in a timely manner.

The disconnection between a city high school diploma and the ability to do college-level work has grown since the University raised admission standards, particularly in math. In part because of CUNY’s urging, in part because of a national concern that so many students are inadequately prepared for college, the state Education Department is building college-readiness into its assessments of high schools and is rethinking its Regents exams. CUNY has found that scores of 75 on the English Regents and 80 in math often translate to a college C. And the Regents exams do not assess essential skills like problem-solving, critical thinking or analytical writing.

Only a quarter of city high school graduates who enroll at CUNY’s community colleges, where most remediation takes place, are college-ready. A stunning 74.4 percent need one or more remedial courses.

A sizeable portion — 22.6 percent, or some 12,442 students, in 2010 — were so-called “triple lows” who needed remediation in the three areas of reading, English and math.

“That so many students need remediation is inextricably tied to our own, and other urban community colleges’, low graduation rates,” Logue told the City Council Higher Education Committee in October. Just a quarter of CUNY community college students who need at least one remedial course graduate within six years. In contrast, 42 percent of entering community college students who do not need any remediation graduate in that time span.

Since the early 1990s, Logue testified, the six-year degree completion rate for freshmen entering associate programs has oscillated between 25 percent and 28 percent, which in part reflects a considerable dropout rate by underprepared students. But, “possibly due to recent innovations” like ASAP and CUNY Start, more freshmen are returning for a second year — 68 percent for those entering in fall 2009 became sophomores, compared to 63 percent in fall 2005, she said. “This rise signals hope for improvement in graduation rates,” she added.

A linchpin of this effort is the voluntary ASAP program. Key ASAP elements include required full-time study in cohorts in a limited number of majors, consolidated course schedules, small class size, comprehensive advisement, academic and career development services, and special programs to support student growth and success. Financial incentives that remove barriers to full-time study include tuition waivers for students who are eligible for financial aid and, for all students, free monthly MetroCards and use of textbooks.

ASAP propelled 55 percent of students in the 2007 pilot toward associate degrees within three years. That’s more than twice the rate of baccalaureate enrollment among similar community college students (24.7 percent). And 72.4 percent of the ASAP pilot program’s three-year graduates enrolled in bachelor’s programs, compared to 62.2 percent of similar students.

All of the pilot’s participants had finished any remedial requirements before entering the program. That changed with the 2009 cohort, which had the same proportion of  students who needed remediation as the general community college population — roughly three-fourths. ASAP worked just as well for them. More than a quarter earned associate degrees in two years and the cohort appears on track to match the goal set by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Goldstein of half earning associate degrees within three years.

ASAP is cost-free for students who qualify for financial aid, thanks to grants from the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Meanwhile, the University has ramped up CUNY Start, an immersion program that originated in 2009. It now brings a broader mix of incoming students up to speed in the three remedial areas and study skills before they enroll as freshmen. A team of CUNY’s adult educators developed and continues to refine a unique curriculum.

Two-thirds of students who complete CUNY Start test out of remediation. The other third begin degree programs needing far less remediation. Based on its early success, CUNY expanded the program from four to seven colleges and more than doubled enrollment to almost 700 this semester. The University charges only a $75 fee for Start, a fraction of tuition for a regular remedial course.

On the secondary school level, the University has joined with the city Department of Education on several major initiatives. At Home in College, started two years ago with funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, involves several thousand students at 62 high schools in special math and English courses designed to prepare students who otherwise would be likely to need remediation at CUNY. College Now, which engages high school students in college-credit-bearing courses, serves more than 20,000 students in 350 high schools more than two decades after it started. At CUNY’s 12 Early College High Schools, students can earn one or two years of college credit; at Hostos Lincoln Academy, for example, 40 percent of the first graduating class last spring earned both a high school diploma and a Hostos associate degree; 38 percent more graduated with 12 to 60 college credits. And real-time data sharing by the University and the DOE now allows the two institutions to better align their programs.