ASAP—A Promising Model for HEA Reform

By Lauren Walizer

In our recommendations to reform the federal Higher Education Act (HEA), CLASP has identified specific improvements that would better support today’s low-income, nontraditional students. We advocate for making aid responsive to today’s postsecondary students, transforming education delivery to support student success, and leveraging outcome information to aid in decision making. In the first in a series of briefs on Opportunities for Addressing Postsecondary Student Poverty in the HEA, we examine the potential of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) model. The ASAP initiative combines free tuition for participating students with a network of student supports—from providing transportation assistance to offering student assistance like counseling and post-completion job placement support. Together, these elements focus college programs on the whole student’s experience and chances of success in college, rather than solely emphasizing either initial enrollment or post-program outcomes, which are too often prioritized in isolation. After success in community colleges in New York and Ohio, the ASAP model will soon expand to other institutions.

ASAP combines several innovative policy ideas, such as free college on a “last dollar” basis (which ensures all students have their tuition and fees paid for after grant aid is credited). Students are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the completion of which, on its own, has been shown to increase persistence. The ASAP initiative also encompasses a holistic approach to supporting students by providing free textbooks and subsidizing student transportation costs, investing in more intensive counseling and guidance on course sequencing, and enabling students to take remedial coursework concurrently with credit-bearing classes so they don’t get trapped in remedial education.

Providing both last-dollar tuition and student supports to ASAP participants requires an initial investment greater than what colleges would ordinarily make. But the combination of these student-focused resources has led to increased rates of student persistence, graduation after three years, and subsequent enrollment in four-year institutions. Over time, on a per-student completion basis, the cost per graduate at the City University of New York (CUNY) was 11 percent less than the cost of its current level of services.

The policy brief recommends building student supports further into the HEA, both on its own and in conjunction with a ”college promise” program model that covers the price of college tuition and fees. The brief also encourages efforts to help students with more comprehensive financial supports.

Read the report here.