MDRC Review of CUNY’s Accelerated Study Programs

Doubling the Graduation Rate (Again)

Begun in 2007, the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) is aimed at helping students earn associate degrees within three years of entering college by providing them more support than traditional community college students. In order to participate in ASAP, students must commit to:

  • Attending college full-time (12 credits per semester)
  • Maintaining a 2.0 Grade Point Average
  • Taking remedial courses immediately (Students needing more than two semesters of remediation are not eligible for ASAP)
  • Attending mandatory meetings with advisors, career counselors, and tutors
  • Taking the ASAP Student Success Seminar (Similar to CCC’s College Success Course)

In exchange for these commitments, ASAP provides students with several financial incentives:

  • Free tuition – Any tuition not covered by financial aid is covered by a tuition waiver
  • Free Transit Cards
  • Free Textbooks

And substantial support services including:

  • Structured pathways to degrees
  • Blocked scheduling and a first-year learning community
  • Counseling from advisors with small caseloads (no more than 150 students per advisor)

Thus, ASAP combines several initiatives that we have put into practice at CCC, including pathways and learning communities. It then adds a substantial financial investment in the form of enhanced support services and tuition waivers.

So the key questions is: Does the investment pay off?

The answer is a resounding yes!

MDRC, a highly-respected program evaluation firm, has been studying ASAP for several years and just completed a randomized trial of its impact on students needing remedial coursework. They found that ASAP nearly doubled the graduation rate for remedial students, graduating 40 percent of ASAP students compared to 22 percent for traditional students.

Just as impressive, MDRC found that the cost per degree was less for ASAP students than traditional students because even though the program is more expensive per student, so many more students graduate.

MDRC concludes with the dramatic statement that “ASAP’s effects are the largest MDRC has found in any of its evaluations of community college reform.”

As we look at the efforts of other community colleges around the country to identify practices that might help CCC students achieve, CUNY ASAP is certainly one of the most promising models we have come across.

For more information: Read the MDRC study here and visit the ASAP website.

     – Aaron Feinstein, Project Team Leader, Center for Operational Excellence


Volume 1 / Issue 2

Mentor Connection Project

Mentor Connection launched in the fall of 2014 at Olive-Harvey and Truman colleges as a faculty-to-student mentoring pilot program at City Colleges of Chicago. Research on this subject has shown that students who receive mentoring from dedicated faculty are likelier to have higher GPAs and higher retention rates than students who do not receive such support. In designing this program, we spoke with faculty at all of the seven City Colleges and found that there was interest in developing a program to mentor students and that an informal student mentoring practice already existed independently among CCC faculty. Adding value to these established mentoring models, Mentor Connection provides a basic structure for faculty to select a caseload of interested students with whom this kind of mentoring is likely to have an impact, and the necessary supports to mange these important relationships.

Participating faculty mentors have a track record of being highly student-focused, as well as eager and available to discuss topics other than just course material with students. In addition to discussing topics such as internships, volunteering, and transfer options, mentors provide students with insight into specific academic disciplines for well-informed pathway and career selection. Through these mentoring relationships, students are not only exposed to greater opportunity through the mentor’s network, but also to the greater network formed by all the participating faculty mentors across CCC.

Mentor Connection
Watch the Video… Hear from our students!

Since its Fall 2014 launch, Mentor Connection has connected faculty mentors to over fifty students, helping them identify their academic and career goals, obtain internships, and transfer to four-year institutions.

When asked what about these mentoring relationships makes them so impactful, participating student mentees have spoken to the significance of developing close, one-on-one relationships with their mentors. A Truman College student said of his mentor, Dr. El-Maazawi:

There’s a word in Arabic, ‘Mu3allem’; The teacher… not just a teacher that you walk past or take a class with—it’s one that really impacts you with his words and his actions. I took a class with El-Maazawi, yes, but what I learned from him outside of class has been tremendous. I gained not only knowledge from him; I became a better person in terms of character and intelligence and in my perspective on life. He really influenced me a lot.

A student at Olive-Harvey College also spoke highly of working with his mentor, Dr. Franklin:

The thing about Dr. Franklin is that she always makes me feel like a scholar… She saw the type of person that I was and accepted it. And then she reached down inside of me and pulled the rest of it out to make me the student that I am today.

We are excited about the work so far and look forward to extending Mentor Connection to Harold Washington College next month.

For more information regarding how to participate, please visit:

      – Joan Lee, Project Team Lead, Center for Operational Excellence

Student Clubs

Student clubs and organizations support students in reaching their academic, personal and professional potential by providing them with enriching opportunities based on their interests. The purpose of the Student Clubs project is to establish student-to-student connections between CCC and popular transfer institutions. Through connecting our clubs with similar clubs at four-year institutions, CCC students will have the opportunity to network with peers and gain an insider’s perspective on life at a four-year institution including which courses to take, scholarships to apply for and advice on how to navigate a four-year environment. The objectives of the project are to develop student clubs for all C2C focus areas, link existing clubs with local transfer institutions and professional associations, and streamline a process for starting a student club to promote diversity of clubs and organizations district-wide.

Progress has been made towards reaching the project’s objectives. In the Fall 2014 semester the Business Club was launched at Harold Washington College, and has already held their first event. Through the process of developing the Business Club, a resource manual was developed that outlines the necessary steps to create a club or organization at CCC. The resource manual will help streamline the student club development process and encourage the expansion of C2C focus area clubs going forward. In addition, all current clubs and organizations offered district-wide have been identified and outreach to corresponding clubs and organizations at four-year institutions has begun. The initial response has been positive with many of clubs and organizations excited about the opportunity to collaborate. This excitement has enabled the HWC Business Club and SGA to plan a Business Transfer Fair for April 2015 that will include the participation of four-year institutions. At this event CCC students for the first time will have the opportunity to network with Business students from four-year institutions and learn more about transfer opportunities and resources.

The development of the HWC Business Club and the Business Transfer Fair are two initial successes that can be replicated for all C2C focus areas district-wide. The development of focus area clubs will allow for more intentional and meaningful collaboration with student clubs and organizations at four-year institutions, and provide our students with the opportunity to broaden their networks.

      – Juliana Toshiro, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Harold Washington College

Reinvention Team Member Spotlight

Giovani Toledo
Role: Student
College: Wilbur Wright College
Transferred to: Roosevelt University
Pursuing a degree in: English
Why did you choose to attend CCC?
I chose to attend City Colleges of Chicago because it presented me with the opportunity to explore what career I wanted to pursue in the future. Coming out of high school, I was unsure what field of study interested me. City Colleges allowed me to take affordable general education classes while I explored what career I wanted to go into.
What accomplishment are you most proud of personally?
I am extremely proud of an accomplishment that is very abstract. I am proud of my developed work ethic and the analytical skills that my education has afforded me. Taking into account my short twenty one years of life, I must humbly recognize that I have yet to accomplish a sizeable set of goals. I am however, proud of the two aforementioned skills. Abstract as they may be, it is these two skills that have been the foundation for everything that I have been able to accomplish.
What are some of the big changes you’ve personally experienced through Reinvention?
As an employee of City Colleges of Chicago, one of the big changes that I have experienced through Reinvention is the implementation of GradesFirst as an operating program. GradesFirst allows the student to make appointments with their assigned advisor. This shift empowers the student and allows him/her access to communicate with their advisor in any format.
What do you feel most proud of while working on Reinvention?
I feel proud of CCC’s constant reinvention efforts. Our institution recognizes that there are facets of our structure that can always be improved upon. Efforts by administration mirror this understanding and these efforts seek to always improve structural practices to ultimately create a better experience for our students.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I will hopefully be pursuing an administrative position in education. My goal is to be in a position where I can support policies and practices that will help the students I will be serving. I will also hopefully have increased my personal library by 150 books and be the owner of a pug.

Civitas Learning

The better we understand our students, the better we are able to serve them.  To help with that understanding we have been working with a firm called Civitas Learning. Civitas was founded with the goals of:

  • Bringing cutting edge big data technologies and sophisticated data science into education
  • Doing so in ways that support and enhance traditional learning
    “reinventing” the way that education is provided

Civitas Learning

They have brought together a diverse group of Postsecondary institutions including four-year publics and privates, for-profits and community colleges. Each institution brings a unique set of students and related data from learning management systems like Blackboard, student information systems like Campus Solutions and other sources. Civitas uses technology and data science expertise to “unify this data and analyze it to unlock its potential – bringing the right information to students, faculty, advisors, and administrators in just the right way.” With all of this data they are able to build school-specific predictive models that discover hidden connections and identify key decision points that affect student success.  We are currently exploring how we can use these predictive models to best serve our students.

     – Scott Martyn, Associate Vice Chancellor-Strategy



Volume 1 / Issue 1

Reinventing the Student Experience


Over a year ago, we launched Student GPS by creating pathway maps to help guide our students on the courses and requirements needed to earn their certificate or degree. These maps were the foundation for creating a larger comprehensive, integrated system of pathways and supports for our students. Building upon the successes of the pathway maps, we are transforming the community college experience for our students. We are beginning this transformation for fall 2015 at Wright College by focusing on our students’ experiences as they transition to and succeed in college. Our goal is for students to see value in all of their interactions with the institution both inside and outside of the classroom. We continue to rely on the expertise of our faculty and staff to set high expectations, provide effective supports, and encourage the positive behaviors that are known to lead to success in college and beyond.  In order to achieve this goal, we must address the following four broad questions:

  • How do we develop a new student in-take process that a) helps us understand student goals, constraints, and preferences; b) sets clear expectations; c) is actionable for individual students?
  • How can we utilize the expertise of our faculty and staff to a) evaluate our students’ academic and non-academic strengths and needs; b) establish working collaborative relationships with students to provide assistance; and c) create actionable strategies to help students -regardless of their level of academic preparation – navigate their entry into college more successfully?
  • How do we develop and implement a process for students to choose and enter into their academic pathways that is timely, easy to use, informative, and helpful?
  • How can we create an environment that provides ongoing integrated, individualized students supports, both inside and outside of the classroom?

We know that it will take the entire CCC community to find answers to these questions and to implement sustainable change that positively impacts our students’ lives. The work so far has been challenging but satisfying. The faculty and staff at Wright who are part of the team have proposed redesigns in the areas of student onboarding/in-take, assessment, math developmental curriculum, English developmental curriculum, and integrated supports that will no doubt transform the student experience. In future updates we will provide more details on each of these areas to keep you in the know on the progress of the project. I invite your feedback and look forward to the conversation…

     – Rich Chandler, Executive Director, Strategic Planning

Welcome to the Reinvention Update

We all share the mission of providing our students with the best possible education and college experience. As the New Year and new semester are under way, the Reinvention team is looking to make sure we keep everyone up to date on the innovative projects that we are working on.  To ensure that, we are starting bi-weekly status updates on the initiatives happening within Reinvention. We want to use this space to increase collaboration in the work that we are doing. In addition, we will be posting occasional pieces covering individual initiatives and related research.

What we ask of you is to provide constructive feedback and ask clarifying questions regarding the work discussed. City Colleges of Chicago is a pioneering force for change to the community college experience!  We are excited to hear your thoughts and look forward to working with you to make City Colleges of Chicago the best in class community college system!

     – Scott Martyn, Associate Vice Chancellor, Strategy

Chicago STAR Scholarship Covers Tuition, Books, and Fees

Momentum for the Chicago STAR Scholarship is off to a great start!  To date, we have received over 1000 applications since we began accepting them on December 18, 2014.  The STAR Scholarship is for any Chicago Public School high school 2015 or later graduate who has a 3.0 GPA or higher, places into college-level math and English, and enrolls in one of City Colleges of Chicago’s approved pathways.  The scholarship will cover tuition, fees and book costs after all financial aid has been applied. The COE Reinvention Team is the temporary administrator of STAR Scholarship applications, managing the current flow of data while coordinating with colleagues from CCC and Chicago Public Schools to create permanent operational processes. We are creating a precedent that has not been accomplished before; we have a model that other educational institutions may follow – City Colleges of Chicago is forging ahead and blazing a new path!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Mayor Rahm Emanuel explains STAR at an informational session for CPS students and parents on December 18th

This scholarship initiative will be welcomed by many students and their parents because the award pays for tuition, books, and fees for up to three-years.  Therefore, more Chicago students can enroll in college regardless of their economic status and be confident about funding their 2-year associate degree.  In fact, students from any economic status are eligible to become a STAR Scholar because eligibility criteria are not need-based.   Most importantly, the scholarship relieves students of loan debt while attending community college.

Now, Chicago Public School students have an enhanced option to attend community college after graduating from high school and this is a win-win for everyone involved.  The first year of the Chicago STAR Scholarship awards will indicate the need for such scholarship programs and perhaps other community colleges outside of Chicago may follow suit.

     – Kimberly Taylor, Reinvention Team Member, Truman College

Meet the COE-Reinvention Team Members

Much of the Reinvention work is facilitated by members of the Center for Operational Excellence, including the Directors of Strategic Initiatives at each College. To learn more about them please click on their name to view their profile.

The COE works with a great number of faculty and staff members from across the district. These team members have been invaluable to the Reinvention of City Colleges and we look forward to highlighting many of them in future Reinvention Updates.

The Center for Operational Excellence:

Overcoming Obstacles: Implementing Learning Communities at Your Institution

In my last blog post, I focused on the different ways of linking courses in order to make the case, as Shapiro and Levine do, that the more we customize our learning communities to meet the specific needs of our students, the greater the positive effects on the institution. However, as we begin to scale up, we begin to face obstacles that are not necessarily of a pedagogical nature, obstacles that must be overcome in order to assure the survival of our linked courses. Having linked courses, unfortunately, does not assure students will take those classes. There are lessons to be learned from previous institutions that have already gone through this kind of overhaul. For example, Shapiro and Levine explain that “[o]ther campuses have found that offering learning communities does not guarantee participation, particularly among a freshman population often skeptical to try something new or different” (Creating Learning Communities). I know that at Truman we had some issues with low enrollment early on due, I am sure, to the difficulties that often arise when a new pedagogical model requires serious alterations in scheduling, registration, advising and student expectations.

Getting the Word Out:

Interestingly, one of the greatest challenges to implementing learning communities is simply informing students, parents and faculty about what they are and what advantages they provide. Shapiro and Levine describe very simple and effective strategies for raising awareness about learning communities. For students, she focuses on developing program literature that answers the following questions:

1. What is a learning community?

2. Why should I enroll?

3. What can learning communities offer me?

4. How do I enroll?

They argue that this information should be included in all recruitment materials, applications, brochures, and videos; it should also be prominently displayed on the college website and be presented to incoming freshman at orientation. Our authors also believe that students who have already participated in linked courses should, if at all possible, be a part of orientation to further reassure students about the value of linked courses and get them excited for the upcoming year. At the very least, claim our authors, “Program literature should include quotations from former participants.”

For faculty, Shapiro and Levine obviously focus on professional development activities. They argue, “In the same way that the campus needs to prepare students with new expectations for their college experience by building in a transition . . . it needs to acknowledge the importance of orienting faculty to the new rules expected of them.” Shapiro and Levine feel workshops should be led by faculty who have already participated in learning communities because “much of the development of the sense of community comes from faculty exploring with each other and defining together their own expectations.” They feel that learning communities cannot be successful if they are not “owned” by the faculty/departments that are offering them. And because so many learning communities are paired with a writing class, our authors point out that it might be a good idea to have experienced faculty demonstrate that “write-to-learn” does not necessarily mean more grading, nor does it require a teacher in a discipline outside of English to have expertise assessing writing. Initially, learning communities will require more work in terms of planning and collaboration, but much of that can be alleviated over time as instructors develop reusable curriculum and through shared assignments and shared grading.

 Technical Issues:

Another challenge to implementing learning communities happens at registration. Registration can sometimes be an obstacle when it comes to student success, and it can really hurt learning communities if not handled with care and forethought. If the individuals registering students (which are the faculty at Truman) don’t know about the existence of learning communities, the result, obviously, is low enrollment, but, more importantly, if registering for learning communities is too complicated or confusing, that too can affect enrollment numbers. Our authors favor having students register for learning communities during orientation, assuming the institution has the ability to register all those students at that time. Shapiro and Levine also suggest listing learning communities separately in the catalogue from conventional classes because they fear it will be confusing to the students. The issue, as far as I see it, is that if learning communities are listed separately, they may be perceived as optional, and students will be much less likely to sign up for them. As my students often tell me, “We don’t do optional.” Our authors do feel, however, that students not enrolled fully in a learning community should be able to register for linked and stand-alone courses in the same place and at the same time. Similarly, institutions must decide if signing up for one class will automatically enroll the student in the paired class. This will most likely also involve a discussion with IT. One way to deal with this issue is to implement block scheduling on a large scale.  Block scheduling simply means having linked courses meet back-to-back. Blocking should reduce scheduling issues that arise when students need both linked and stand-alone courses. Block scheduling has the added advantage of “provid[ing] faculty and students with more time to plan and engage in collaborative learning and community-building activities.” In order to further encourage student participation, Shapiro and Levine suggest scheduling learning communities during peak times.

Other Incentives:

Besides making sure there are few obstacles impeding the implementation of learning communities, some institutions provide further incentives to students who participate in learning communities by “creat[ing] a special citation” on their transcripts. One institution went so far as to create an alternative orientation for their learning communities students and had them go around campus testing water for pollutants. Parents reported in a survey that their children came back from this orientation very excited about the upcoming semester. Finally, our authors suggest developing “a name for the program, a logo, and an event T-shirt . . . to foster community identification, which makes it that much easier to build authentic community.”  For example, Kingsborough Community College’s program has the catchy moniker, “Opening Doors.” These are only a few creative ways of generating student excitement and fostering lasting community.

As always, I invite comments and questions. Large-scale collaboration is going to be essential for making our transition a smooth one. As fall 2014 approaches, we need to make sure the information about learning communities is in the hands of students, their families, faculty, and staff.  We also need to be as proactive about addressing any technical concerns as we are about pedagogical ones. And finally, faculty and staff must communicate between departments and between campuses to discuss setbacks and successes, solutions and best practices so our learning communities are fully enrolled, blocked and integrated.

– Timothy Matos, Reinvention7 team member, faculty at Truman College

Choosing the Right Learning Community by Timothy Matos

In my previous post on March 17th, I briefly discussed how learning communities benefit students and faculty (and, by extension, institutions) by improving success and retention rates and by fostering interdisciplinarity and integrated learning. This week I’d like to explore the different types of learning communities since, as many experts have pointed out, one of the biggest advantages of this model is its modifiability. Nancy S. Shapiro and Jodi H. Levine, in their book, Creating Learning Communities, “do not recommend that campuses [simply] replicate another campus’s learning communities.” No two institutions are exactly alike, of course, which makes the flexibility of this model one of its chief strengths and something that must be taken into careful consideration if we are to maximize the impact of our linked courses. “Customizing learning communities to fit the culture of a campus,” argue Shapiro and Levine, “means dedicating time and resources to build learning communities that are the right fit for the institution.”

According to our authors, there are four general types of learning community: paired or clustered courses, cohorts in large classes, team-taught programs and residence-based programs. (Given the nature of City Colleges, we can ignore the last of these.) Clearly, we need not accept these four categories as definitive, but I think they provide a good starting point for considering the many options available to us as we continue to develop and, more importantly, scale-up these course offerings.

At Truman, our linked courses tend to be of the paired or clustered variety.  These are individually taught courses that also tend to be blocked. There are essentially two ways of handling paired courses. One kind of pairing focuses on the integration of basic skills while the other type is organized by theme. The first type is most common for institutions that make learning communities the center of the first-year experience in order “to introduce students to what it means to be a college student.” This model is often used in conjunction with “developmental programs that provide at-risk students with a support network of faculty, peers, and counselors.” These classes might pair a developmental reading and/or writing class with a college success class. The goal of these blocks tends to be to reinforce skills between the classes. For example, College Success instructor may assign students an article about the first-generation college experience. The reading teacher, then, can use the article to teach active reading techniques while the writing teacher can have the students write an essay based on the same article. The second variety is linked by theme and tends to include classes in the disciplines. The professors may decide, for instance, to do a unit on Chicago neighborhoods and then align their assignments to the theme rather than the development of specific skills. Clusters, which are composed of three or four courses centered on a common theme, are simply expansions of the latter approach. Instructors have the added benefit of being able to take advantage of the block scheduling to do cocurricular activities like field trips, film screenings, guest speakers, and social gatherings.

The second type of learning community is the cohorts in large classes model—sometimes referred to as FIGs (Freshman Interest Groups). These are designed to make the freshman experience at large universities more manageable by providing the students with smaller cohorts within large freshman lecture classes. Although we do not have giant freshman seminars at the City Colleges, we are enrolling all of our new students in cohorts for similar reasons. Although they will not get the same benefits of a thematically-linked cluster, they will get the substantial social benefits that come from taking a number of classes with the same people.

Finally, in team-taught programs, students are enrolled “in two or more courses organized around an interdisciplinary theme.” Faculty often grade together but students receive individual grades. “These programs,” our authors caution, “are the most complex in terms of curricular integration and faculty role.” They are also the most intensive of the models when it comes to professional development, but they are likely to be the most rewarding as well. Chandler Gilbert Community College in Arizona, for example, is one institution that takes advantage of this model for their reading and writing classes. The teachers have a large block of class time with no clear distinction between when writing class ends and reading class begins, which allows for a great deal of instructional flexibility since both instructors are present in the classroom at the same time, taking turns leading the class and supporting the students.  If “success in college is directly connected to student-faculty interaction, student involvement in cocurricular activities, and, most important, peer influences and interaction,” then team-taught programs, ideally at least, have the best chance of reaching these goals.

As I said earlier, one need not take this taxonomy too literally since the lines between these different models is sometimes fuzzy and opportunities for combining these various approaches seem to be myriad. The authors themselves conclude that it is becoming increasingly common to make use of multiple models on a campus, which makes practical sense for a model whose greatest strength is targeted customization.

As always, I invite readers to post comments or questions. If you’ve read a recent article on learning communities, please feel free to post a link.  If you know of any other models or initiatives relevant to our discussion, please share.

     – Timothy Matos, Reinvention7 team member, faculty at Truman College

Latina/o Ethnography and the Anthropological Toolkit by Sergio Lemus

Reinvention task force member Sergio Lemus is a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has conducted ethnographic research among Mexican lawn care service workers in the City of Chicago. Lemus uses border theory to explore how color hierarchies, borders, capitalism, and the body produce and reproduce a Mexican culture in the United States.  Sergio recently contributed a blog to Anthropology News, the official site of the American Anthropological Association. It’s an interesting read.  Take a look…

     – Scott Martyn, Center for Operational Excellence