Building Momentum to Scale College Completion Efforts

Reflections from the CUNY ASAP Convening

5 min readDec 4, 2023
John Lane, Brian Bridges, John B. King Jr and Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, sit for a panel discussion at the CUNY convening.

Setting the Stage

Sakshee Chawla, Senior Policy Analyst, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO)

In early November, the College Completion Coalition Learning Community, a partnership between the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) | Accelerate, Complete, Engage (ACE) National Replication Collaborative, convened five participating state teams to engage in shared learning, peer networking, and strategic planning. Representatives from Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington participated in strategy development sessions to create action plans for state-scaled ASAP replication aimed at closing equity gaps and increasing college completion rates among community colleges in their states.

The fireside chat with CUNY Chancellor Dr. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, The State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Dr. John B. King Jr., and New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Brian Bridges set the stage for the convening as panelists emphasized the role of ASAP|ACE replication projects in advancing state priorities with a focus on equity as an imperative. Secretary Bridges referenced the great promise offered by the replication of ASAP|ACE programs as he said, “There is a workforce imperative and a social justice imperative to this work and when you combine the two, you have the most powerful opportunity.” These themes were reinforced as U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary James Kvaal shared his support for evidence-based student success models, such as ASAP and ACE, that have demonstrated improvements to persistent equity gaps in degree attainment rates. “This [reference to ASAP replication] is hard work, but not as hard as what our students go through. All our students are worthy.”

Discovering the Possible

Dr. Stefani Thachik, Senior Advisor, New Jersey (NJ) Office of the Secretary of Higher Education

The SHEEO|ASAP College Completion Coalition Learning Community Convening concluded with the challenging task of describing the past 24 hours of work in a single word. For me, that word came easily: Possible.

For many years, the successful replication of the ASAP model seemed out of reach. The New York City transit system being unlike any other in the country, ASAP’s funding model seemingly unsuitable for alternate contexts, and so on… Through participation in the convening, however, I’ve come to realize that with a diverse team of stakeholders invested in honest and innovative conversations, ASAP replication can be done. With a bold vision, intention, a tailored approach, and strong partner networks, it is certainly possible.

VISION: New Jersey is lucky to have strong leadership that has already laid the foundation for higher education to innovate and help students complete their postsecondary credentials. Starting with the goal for 65% of working-age New Jerseyans to have a high-quality credential by 2025, our state plan for higher education sets a high bar that includes ASAP as an exemplary multi-intervention model worth exploring for the New Jersey context.

INTENTION: Using the State Plan as a blueprint, New Jersey has increased investment in higher education. Our state boosted funding for the successful Educational Opportunity Fund, created the statewide New Jersey College Promise financial aid program, and enhanced basic needs support for students. Equity has been a common thread as New Jersey recognizes that affordable and accessible postsecondary pursuits create economic and social opportunities for communities across the state.

A TAILORED APPROACH: A big part of the challenge now is how to integrate pre-existing programs into current state infrastructure, particularly given New Jersey’s decentralized higher education system. Through convening workshops, New Jersey was able to envision what might be possible for us.

● The CUNY ASAP Origin and Scaling Story session emphasized the importance of structure through policies and procedures while allowing flexibility to tweak certain practices. For a decentralized state like New Jersey, learning about the forthcoming expansion at SUNY, in which institutions could choose from a menu of evidence-based options, illustrated an approach in which institutions could maintain their identity while furthering system goals.

● The session on Centralized Data Strategy reinforced the importance of integrating existing programs, prioritizing infrastructure compatibility, and disaggregating data for effective scaling. Being able to successfully monitor and evaluate as the work continues will be key to demonstrating success to multiple audiences.

STRONG PARTNER NETWORKS: Being in a learning community with five other states from around the country showed us we aren’t alone in adapting the ASAP model to our unique state context. We were excited to hear how colleagues in North Carolina are integrating this work with their Transfer, Accelerate, Engage (TrACE) initiative by considering an expansion of the effort to community colleges. Washington reinforced the need to include workforce and industry partners at the table. San Mateo County Community College district’s intentional program integration has also been a source for learning, as they have sought to create programs that complement, rather than compete, in an effort to serve more of their students. As we move forward, conversations with other states about their successes and lessons will help New Jersey continue to make the case for ASAP replication to stakeholders, as well as allow us to adjust our approach based on lessons learned.

As Secretary Bridges stated during his fireside chat at the event,

“We aim to bring everyone into the conversation. Whenever and wherever possible, that includes the students themselves… We’ll move forward by building trusting relationships with institutions and their leadership and engage in great and clear-minded work — anchored by best practice.”

New Jersey has a landscape that is ready and eager to institute policies and programs that support students’ education goals. The next step is to reinforce this commitment by integrating our array of student support programs and building the scaffolding necessary to further our reach and impact. Needless to say, this work is possible. And together, New Jersey will improve college completion rates.

Promise in the Air

Katie Giardello, Senior Policy Advisor, ASAP|ACE National Replication Collaborative, City University of New York

New York City was the perfect backdrop for the inaugural meeting of the SHEEO|ASAP College Completion Coalition Learning Community! Not only is NYC the birthplace of CUNY’s proven ASAP model but the dynamic energy in the city radiates promise.

This promising energy filled the air at our convening, too, where like-minded colleagues from across the nation came together with the shared commitment to pursuing state-scaled ASAP replication to address equity gaps in college completion. As Stefani described above and Secretary Bridges noted in his remarks at the event, our time in NYC offered a powerful opportunity for catalyzing connection and shared understanding of what is possible when coalitions embrace an equity-focused goal to do what is right for students.

The CUNY ASAP|ACE National Replication Collaborative has supported the replication of the ASAP model in seven states across the country since 2014. The CUNY ASAP|ACE national replication team has done this by advising states on program design and supporting the scaled implementation of the ASAP model in each partner’s unique context. Through this new SHEEO learning community, we are advising state teams and empowering them to leverage state and federal policy environments to support scaled replication of a model that promises high impact to supporting state goals and, more importantly, individual citizens’ lives. This is a powerful opportunity, indeed!




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