An Excellent Return on Investment (ROI)

Pearl of Wisdom 


by Alexandros M. Goudas

Almost every single recent article written by developmental education reformers supports one fundamental philosophical approach to higher education: cutting equals success. All sorts of cuts have been studied—cut placement scores, cut requirements for classes, cut time through remediation, cut classes by combining them, cut classes by removing them, cut instructors by modularizing or using online courses, cut funding, cut remediation completely—and surprisingly, most of these reforms are supported by data which show subsequent increases in student success.

Now I’m sure that some cuts are necessary and that a few of these reforms work in the short-term. But cutting time and money as a philosophy runs contrary to what we know about education. Education takes a great deal of time, money, and human connections. For community college students especially, a good education requires an understanding of significant barriers, and then it requires an investment of time and money which addresses those barriers.

The City University of New York (CUNY) must have realized this fact when they conducted a randomized, controlled study—the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP)—in which they targeted barriers and provided comprehensive financial and time-intensive support for a cohort of low-income community college remedial students, most of whom were students of color. You can read more about the details in the links below, but here’s the gist: A group of remedial students were required to enroll in block schedules full-time, to meet with counselors two times a month, to take a non-credit first-year seminar, to have tutoring, and to complete remedial courses early. In addition, they were given free tuition over and above what their financial aid offered, and they received free transportation, free textbooks, and several free social events. All told, the program cost the college about $4000 per student per year.

And the results are astounding. The comparison group (a group of similar students who did not receive any of this extra support but who started at the same time as the ASAP students) graduated at a rate of 18% after 2.5 years. The ASAP group graduated at a rate of 33%. ASAP almost doubled CUNY’s remedial graduation rate. Not only that, but one study on ASAP shows a return on investment of 300 to 400 percent for taxpayers (Levin & Garcia, 2013). Millions of dollars come back to our society when we invest time and money in our college students.

I have yet to read about a study in community college higher education which can claim anything close to these results, especially one which uses cuts as its basis. If a high ROI is what we are looking for, then ASAP is a model worth looking into. Perhaps it’ll change our philosophy.

Further Reading

Kirp, D. L. (2014, January 8). “How to Help College Students Graduate.”  New York Times.

Levin, H. M., & Garcia, E. (2013). “Benefit-Cost Analysis of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) of the City University of New York (CUNY).” Center for Cost-Benefit Studies in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Scrivener, S., & Weiss, M. J. (2013). “More Graduates: Two-Year from an Evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students.” MDRC Policy Brief. New York: New York.