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A young woman in college walks up the stairs behind her peers

Cincinnati State modeled its student success program, CState Accelerate, after CUNY’s ASAP program and has seen higher completion rates and continued support from donors.

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Modeling the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), Cincinnati State Technical and Community College launched CState Accelerate in 2015 to support low-income and first-generation students with wraparound supports.

To make the program sustainable, CState Accelerate needs continuous support from outside groups to allocate funds for student tuition and other costs. College leaders say its success metrics, student stories and enthusiasm from campus stakeholders have been critical to CState Accelerate’s continued work.

The program: The program first started in 2015, when the college participated with two other Ohio community colleges in a replication study evaluated by MDRC.

“We were pretty amazed at the success, and we were interested in continuing into the future,” Cincinnati State president Monica Posey says.

The program provides eligible low-income students with financial assistance to cover tuition, fees, books, software and remote learning tools. A dedicated full-time coordinator helps guide students through higher education and career exploration, and they receive additional supports as needed.

Barriers to success are complex for low-income students, Posey says. Financial needs can hinder academic progress if students are struggling to make ends meet, lack reliable transportation or are caregivers. Nearly one-third of community college students face food insecurity and 14 percent are housing insecure, according to spring 2021 data from the Center for Community College Engagement.

Academic life can also be more challenging for first-generation students because postsecondary education is less structured than high school.

CState Accelerate started with 350 students during the pilot program and grew to around 600 students in the cohort, onboarding about 200 each year. Officials hope to maintain a participant group of 600, so students will be added gradually to keep that goal, Posey explains.

The funding: Funding was and remains one of the greatest considerations in the program, Posey says.

Beyond filling financial gaps for students, funds pay for personnel—a director and three triage coordinators (one still to be hired).

Cincinnati State is on a performance-based model for state subsidies, “so we do see the advantage that this group of 600 [has], as we see them graduate at higher rates and meet different kinds of success milestones. That’ll help our funding in the future,” Posey says. “But we need even bigger numbers to make the significant difference.”

The college launched a comprehensive campaign in 2020 and had raised $3.5 million for CState Accelerate (part of a $21 million total) as of spring 2023, which Posey says was made easier by having results from the replication study.

“It was a really strong program to present to donors, and that’s why we were successful, but it takes work,” Posey says. The program also has powerful student stories, of underrepresented or nontraditional students who were able to meet their goals or continue to a four-year degree program.

Funders for CState come from a variety of sectors—foundation and corporate donors have given money, and the college has received federal funding. Bank of America gave $100,000 to the program in 2021.

The impact: Cincinnati State, along with Cuyahoga Community College and Lorain County Community College, saw participants in the pilot programs had higher earnings compared to their peers who did not participate, despite both groups having the same employment rates, according to MDRC research.

Graduation rates among pilot participants rose 50 percent after six years, with 44 percent of program students earning a degree of any kind, compared to 26 percent of their peers who did not participate.

In the future, Cincinnati State leaders will track students’ progress after completing at the institution, evaluating their earnings and the number who successfully complete a four-year degree.

Even students who do not participate in the program have benefited from its work on campus, Posey says. During the replication study, Cincinnati State staff randomly selected participants and became more aware of resources available to even those who did not participate—these students were also more likely to take advantage of those resources. The program has also motivated faculty members and those involved in fundraising.

“We have some great stories to tell, and we’re going to continue fundraising,” Posey says.

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