CUNY’s nationally acclaimed program that helps students receive associate degrees faster provides taxpayers with a big bang for the buck, a new independent study indicates. The benefits will only increase as the program scales up to 25,000 students by the 2018-2019 academic year.

For every 1,000 students enrolled in The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), the benefit to taxpayers is “more than $46 million relative to enrolling in the conventional degree program,” Henry M. Levin, Emma García and colleagues at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, write in the Journal of Higher Education. “ASAP results demonstrate that an effective educational policy can generate returns to the taxpayer that vastly exceed the public investment required.”

“We have known for some time that ASAP offers unparalleled results, graduating two to three times the number of students in three years,” said Chancellor James B. Milliken. “But this important study verifies what we long believed – that the economic contributions of the program far outweigh the public investment. This makes a compelling case for expansion of this transformational program.”

The article – the first in a peer-reviewed journal evaluating ASAP’s economic impact – explains how the researchers arrived at that estimate: “The returns on investment to the taxpayer include the benefits from higher tax revenues and lower costs of spending on public health, criminal justice, and public assistance. For each dollar of investment in ASAP by taxpayers, the return was $3 to $4. For each additional graduate, the taxpayer gained an amount equal to a certificate of deposit with a value of $146,000 (net of the costs of the investment).”

As a headline in the article put it, ASAP is “a highly productive investment.”

The Teachers College team is not the only independent organization whose findings endorse ASAP’s approach. MDRC, a research group that looked at the program’s effectiveness, randomly assigned CUNY students at three colleges, including those needing remedial help, to either ASAP or the traditional CUNY experience. In 2015, MDRC reported that ASAP nearly doubled the three-year associate-degree completion rate, as well as resulting in higher transfer rates and accumulation of more credits. In a finding that dovetails with the Teachers College study, MDRC found that, because CUNY ASAP generates so many more graduates than the usual college services, the cost per degree is lower, despite the significant investment required to operate the program.

Launched in 2007 as a pilot, CUNY ASAP graduates more than half of its students within three years, more than double the national rate of about 20 percent. Few other programs in the nation can match that accomplishment, and educators elsewhere are taking notice. Replication efforts are well underway at three community colleges in Ohio, and CUNY ASAP is providing technical assistance to Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y., and Skyline College in San Bruno, Ca., to support their efforts for a fall 2018 launch.

ASAP requires full-time study, offers consolidated class schedules and supports transition to baccalaureate study or entry into the workforce. With generous city and state support, it removes financial barriers by waiving any gap between financial aid and the cost of tuition and fees, defrays the cost of textbooks and provides MTA MetroCards. It builds in regular, personalized academic advisement, career counseling and tutoring support for students with remedial needs or who struggle academically.

Since 2007, there have been 10 ASAP cohorts totaling more than 22,000 students across nine CUNY campuses. In the current academic year, ASAP serves more than 15,000 students. In 2014, when ASAP had 4,000 students, the decision was made to scale up to 25,000 total students CUNY-wide by 2018 and to demonstrate its potential with a bold experiment: converting Bronx Community College into an all-ASAP institution for first-time, full-time freshmen.

The Teachers College researchers limited their analysis to estimating the benefit of obtaining an associate degree within three years, but there are also additional benefits and costs associated with the option that many ASAP graduates take to move onto a baccalaureate or higher degree.

The study compared benefits and costs from several perspectives. From the standpoint of overall savings to the city and state it stated: “From a policy perspective, it is important to keep in mind the full magnitude of the returns to the taxpayer by taking into account the highly superior effectiveness of ASAP in comparison with the conventional program (completion rates of about 55 percent for ASAP versus 24 percent for the conventional program, for students meeting ASAP’s eligibility requirements when the program was launched in 2007). For every 1,000 enrollees in ASAP, about 549 would be expected to complete the associate degree requirement in three years compared with only about 241 in the conventional program. When converted into overall benefits generated by the 1,000 enrollees, the considerably higher productivity of ASAP in producing associate degrees would provide fiscal benefits to taxpayers of $46 million beyond those of investing an approximately equal amount in the conventional degree program.”

Researchers also looked at the benefits and costs from the standpoint of the University and students: “Although the cost per ASAP student was higher than for the traditional student because of the extra services, the institutional cost for each graduate was less for students in ASAP because of the considerably higher graduation rates for ASAP,” the study found. The researchers determined a total institutional cost per graduate of $59,300 for the Fall 2007 ASAP cohort (assuming a 23-year-old graduate in 2010 dollars), compared with $65,900 for a student in a comparison group.

The researchers arrived at their finding of a $146,200 net benefit to the taxpayer per ASAP graduate by subtracting the $59,300 institutional cost from the $205,500 in gross benefits per additional degree that they estimated that taxpayers would enjoy.

Similarly, the cost borne by ASAP students is less, the researchers determined – $13,100 versus $21,000. Those figures take into consideration earnings that students forgo for their studies and the cost of materials, tuition and transportation, which are counterbalanced by ASAP’s subsidies for tuition, fees, books and transportation.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.