Improving Four-Year College Graduation Rates

We helped the nation’s largest city university system test the efficacy of its baccalaureate completion program, yielding both promising outcomes and support for program expansion.

ACE program students from CUNY’s John Jay College. Photo courtesy of the City University of New York.

Accelerate, Complete, and Engage (ACE) is a baccalaureate completion program based on the principles of the highly successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). ACE assists students with earning four-year degrees by providing a range of financial, academic, and personal supports, including intensive academic advisement, career counseling, tuition assistance, and subsidies for textbooks and transportation.  Created by the City University of New York (CUNY), ASAP has shown to have a large and significant effect on associate degree graduation rates among two-year colleges. As such, the ACE program holds the promise of a model that can be translated to a baccalaureate setting. 

Approximately one-quarter of first-time, full-time baccalaureate-seeking students at CUNY earn a bachelor’s degree within four years. This percentage climbs to about 55% within six years. Bachelor’s degree-seeking students at City University of New York senior colleges face many of the same obstacles as students at the community college level.  There is reason to believe that a package of supports and services such as those offered by ACE will increase senior college graduation rates.

Testing the ACE Model at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Within the CUNY system, John Jay College is the first senior college to apply the principles of ASAP to baccalaureate degree students.  The goal of the ACE program is to dramatically improve on-time graduation rates through comprehensive academic, financial, and social interventions. The ACE program was piloted with an initial cohort of 262 John Jay College students starting in the fall of 2015.  This cohort is representative of the larger John Jay undergraduate student body.

With support from Arnold Ventures, CUNY and the Metis research team launched a five-year randomized controlled trial study of ACE at John Jay College.  For this study, 570 treatment and control students are expected to be followed throughout summer 2023 as they progress through college. 

Promising Early Findings Support Program Expansion

The Year 1 impact study found that the ACE program has demonstrated significant positive impacts on being on track to four-year graduation, the study’s primary outcome.

It also found significant positive effects on two secondary outcomes – credit accumulation and student grade-point average (GPA).  For all findings, ACE students significantly outperformed their counterparts who had not participated in the program.

Based on the Year 1 impact study, there are plans to expand the program to an additional four-year CUNY college and to follow a new cohort within the current RCT study.