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NYC’s Model: Education for Economic Improvement

This is the second in a series of posts exploring education policy options for Mayors

Economic development is often top of mind for Mayors, but the ways that city leaders define this broad topic can vary. A productive and skilled labor force should be a goal for any city leader, and New York City has fostered an evidence-based model to support residents in building those skills and acquiring education credentials.

That model, the Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP), is one of the most successful partnerships between City University of New York (CUNY) and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. The theory behind ASAP is that supporting students in achieving an associate degree in three years will lead to improved outcomes in mobility, earnings, and labor market outcomes. ASAP began in 2007 and is available to low-income students at nine of the 24 CUNY colleges throughout New York City.

Below are three recommendations for mid-sized cities that wish to successfully learn from the ASAP model. You can also view a video further discussing the issue of cities and high-quality education.

Mitigate barriers

Post-secondary education has been linked to higher lifetime earnings, but national level data indicates that six years after enrolling in a community college, only about one-third of students earned a degree. John Mogulescu, Founding Dean of the CUNY School of Professional Studies and Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs, notes that ASAP students face the same challenges as other urban-based community colleges, including responsibilities related to work and supporting a family, financial challenges, and a need for developmental courses.

Most students who begin their college career with developmental education do not attain a degree or certification within 8 years of beginning the program. To disrupt this trend, ASAP encourages its students to take developmental courses early, and to enroll full time to accelerate earning of credentials. The program also offers academic and career advising and a cohort model for peer support, as well as financial assistance, textbook vouchers, and Metro cards for public transportation. It may seem like common sense that these supports will help a student succeed, but who provides the funding?

Trust the evidence

The initial $6.5 million investment for the first cohort of 1,000 ASAP students in 2007 came from the Bloomberg Administration as the first initiative of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, an office that was created to use an evidence-based approach to address the challenges of poverty. Data on academic outcomes indicates that ASAP is successful in promoting degree attainment and therefore improving the opportunity for economic mobility among graduates. For instance, external evaluations reveal that the program doubles graduation rates for ASAP students compared with students in a control group and CUNY’s standard program. ASAP students also transfer to BA programs and earn bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than non-ASAP students. The benefit for students is clear, but is the investment worth it?

A cost benefit analysis found that the cost per graduate over three years is $6,359 less for ASAP students than students in comparison groups. The same study found that for every 1,000 students enrolled in ASAP, taxpayers save more than $46 million relative to conventional degree programs. Higher graduation rates, costs per graduate and savings for taxpayers are three compelling reasons for investing in a similar program. In addition to data on graduation rates, the cost per graduate can make a compelling case to those concerned whether the city investment is worthwhile.

Due to the program’s success, the de Blasio administration plans to expand to 25,000 students by the fall of 2018 and replicate the program at Westchester Community College.  Ohio and California have also adopted ASAP. But according to Mogulescu, there is nothing magical about the ASAP model. The most important thing for city leaders is to pay attention to results. If outcomes like graduation rates have not budged despite traditional attempts to improve them, it’s time to think differently about the community college model.

Partner and share data with multiple sectors

The continued investment by the Mayor’s office in ASAP is supported by evidence that higher education is the only avenue out of poverty for large numbers of folks. According to the Director of Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, “Government has a critical role to ensure opportunity.” In addition to funding, part of this role includes bringing partners from the business community and nonprofits to the table to establish internships and employment opportunities to graduates.

It’s also important to ensure the public school system is connected to the community college system and other higher education offerings. Sharing data among academic institutions and governments is critical to understand the demographics of students enrolling in the higher education system, since often there are assumptions about who community college students are. Cities often have good data on labor statistics, which can be used to help universities understand sector growth and declines. Understanding these trends can help education providers serve students in a way that will increase skills and employability, and further inform economic development support tactics from local governments.


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