Targeted Problem Solving

MetroCards for Community College Students

Problem

Transportation is a major barrier to staying enrolled in college, particularly for low-income, first-generation college students, and for community college students.

Solution

We are funding a randomized controlled trial that focuses on the independent impact of MetroCards on student attendance and enrollment in community college. The trial, which The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice (Temple University) is partnering with the City University of New York on, provides a way in which to isolate the impact of free MetroCards on part-time students or on ASAP-eligible students (those who apply to ASAP but are not admitted due to capacity—see below) at two CUNY community colleges: Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College. This trial will be part of a three-city study of college transportation initiatives in Los Angeles, Amarillo, and New York City. 

ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) is another program we funded that attempts to mitigate transportation issues (among other barriers) that contribute to the high dropout rates at community colleges specifically. While the program yielded unparalleled student success, the high cost per student prevented scaling it. (We built on the success of ASAP by launching SPARK–Strategic Partnerships for Achievement and Retention at Kingsborough—which, through three years of our funding, increased retention and graduation rates by an average of 10 percentage points at a fraction of the cost of the ASAP model.)

Our funding of this trial was also informed by our funding of the SUNY Student Emergency Fund, an emergency grants program at seven SUNY campuses in which transportation was a major request for student emergency funds to meet financial crises. 

A lack of affordable transportation is a substantial barrier to college completion. By supporting this demonstration program, helping hundreds of CUNY students by providing free MetroCards, Heckscher is facilitating a rigorous empirical estimate of just how big a difference transportation supports can make. The impact will be both immediate, helping students get to school, and long-term, as the evidence base on what works builds.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University