CUNY Start — a Big Success in College Readiness

Seven in 10 New York City public high school graduates and other incoming City University of New York students pass reading, writing and math assessment tests they previously failed after completing an innovative pre-community college-level program, according to new CUNY data.

CUNY-StartCUNY Start accepts students who agree to postpone their enrollment into community colleges and associate degree programs for up to six months so they can raise their skills to college level. Most have failed the CUNY Assessment Test in at least two subjects.

For the four years CUNY Start has been offered, students failing two or three subjects have become fully skills proficient — college-ready — at a rate of 48 percent upon program completion, the data show. For each subject area taken by the CUNY Start students, the rate of students attaining proficiency after completing the program is about 70 percent.

The findings are encouraging news for the college readiness problem that has vexed the higher education community for decades: how to prepare students who come to community college with significant remedial needs.

Approximately three-quarters of New York City public high school graduates about to enter CUNY’s community colleges as first-time freshmen — 77.6 percent according to Fall 2013 data — require remediation in at least one of the three subjects. The latest University figures reflect a very modest improvement over the last several years, when the figure for students needing some remediation has hovered around 80 percent.

While the figures reflect improvement, most educators agree there is more work to be done in getting under-prepared students ready for college-level work. Recent city public high school graduates comprises 51 percent of CUNY Start’s full-time enrollment in Fall 2013.

The results produced by CUNY Start, which was launched as a pilot in two CUNY colleges in Fall 2009 and expanded since then to eight colleges, are particularly promising for students who enter with significant remedial needs and finish the program. An added bonus: CUNY Start’s nominal fee helps to protect financial aid awards for students when they enroll in college-level work.

Students failing the CUNY Assessment tests are offered the option to defer matriculation in order to participate in the 15 to 18 weeks of intensive instruction. The program is led by highly trained teachers and advisors and designed to eliminate or minimize remedial need and build readiness for college-level work once students matriculate into an associate degree program.

CUNY Start costs just $75 per semester, enabling students to preserve their financial aid for credit-bearing coursework. Students may enroll in the full-time program, which meets for 25 hours per week and addresses reading/writing and math or may attend the part-time program, which meets 12 hours a week for either reading/writing or math.

For the 1,636 students who completed the full-time CUNY Start program between Fall 2009 and Spring 2013, approximately 70 percent gained proficiency in the subject areas in which they required remediation, according to the University’s analysis.

Sixty-seven percent, or 1,090 of the 1,636 students, entered the program needing remediation in all three subjects and 541 students entered with remedial need in two subject areas during that period. After completing CUNY Start, roughly one in two — 48 percent — attained proficiency in all three subjects, the data show. Those who did not pass still made gains that resulted in reduced remedial needs. For the 1,165 students who completed CUNY Start’s part-time program, the outcomes were similarly strong

Eighty-four percent of students who completed CUNY Start in Fall 2012 enrolled in a CUNY degree program the following semester, according to Fall 2013 data. Ninety percent of students recruited for CUNY Start’s Fall 2013 semester completed the program.

Comparing CUNY Start students with similar students who needed remediation but did not enroll in the program, the study found that after one semester CUNY Start students were more likely than comparison group students to achieve proficiency in reading, writing and math; CUNY Start also has a positive impact on students after they begin their degree programs. CUNY Start students attempt and earn more credits with higher GPAs and have stronger retention over time than comparison group students.

Traditionally, students who do not pass the CUNY Assessment Test are placed in regular non-credit remedial classes once they enroll in their associate degree programs. But at CUNY as nationwide, many students do not complete the required remedial sequences, which can take several semesters to finish and are billed at regular tuition rates, which sap student financial aid and/or personal resources, the University report noted.

“CUNY Start is fulfilling its goals, which include providing a more immersive but shorter remedial program that will improve student readiness for college-level work, and ultimately boost retention and graduation rates,” said Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly. “At a $75 cost, it preserves students’ financial resources – either out-of-pocket monies or financial aid – for when they matriculate and are in a better position to succeed in college.”