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Education and Academic Support / College Readiness and Retention

Kingsborough Community College SPARK Program

In 2016, the foundation provided multi-year support to Kingsborough Community College (KCC), one of the seven CUNY two-year colleges with open enrollment, to launch a new program called Strategic Partnerships for Achievement and Retention at Kingsborough (SPARK). SPARK is intended as a cost-effective approach to develop and expand on Kingsborough’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) model to improve graduation rates.

The ASAP model was launched in 2007 in all six CUNY community colleges. A recent MDRC study compared ASAP with regular services and classes at the colleges and several key findings demonstrated its impact, particularly for first-generation college students: 1) an increase in semester-to-semester college retention of 8-10 percent, 2) a 25 percent increase in credits earned toward a degree, and 3) a 15 percent increase in associate’s degree completion. These positive effects are among the largest in a community college setting. While the program yields unparalleled student success, the cost per student has prevented scaling of the program.

Based on the success of ASAP, Kingsborough Community College, under President Farley Herzek’s leadership, designed SPARK as an effective, lower-cost, more scalable, ASAP-like solution. SPARK is designed to close the educational and employment gap of KCC students in need of developmental education so that students complete their education at KCC ready to transfer to a four-year CUNY institution or prepared for job entry.

The SPARK model provides at-risk students with a range of financial, academic, and personal support and comprehensive case management, including SingleStop services. The program serves both incoming and continuing students with customized resources. Incoming students receive support through innovative Learning Communities, work with  an assigned, dedicated, on-campus case manager throughout their college experience at KCC, and have intensive resources in place to address Math, Reading, and Writing remediation requirements. Continuing students have access to assigned case managers who can holistically address financial, academic, and personal challenges to college retention and they receive placement in new Learning Communities designed exclusively for continuing students’ career readiness and exploration.

In the first year of SPARK, the cost per student was $1,346. In Year 2, with 300 incoming freshmen and 6,000 continuing students, the cost decreased to $556 per incoming freshman and $62 per continuing student.

Outcomes are projected to include:

  • Fall-to-Spring semester persistence rate for incoming freshmen: increase from 83 to 90 percent
  • Fall-to-Fall semester persistence rate for incoming freshmen: increase from 65 to 77 percent
  • Fall-to-Fall semester persistence for Black and Hispanic students in Year 2: increase of 10 percent
  • Graduation rate of students at the lowest level of developmental English and Mathematics: longer-term, two-fold increase from 16.6 to 34 percent

The SPARK initiative aligns with the foundation’s previous support of KCC, which made it the first SingleStop center within any CUNY institution. SingleStop was found to have halved the dropout rate of low-income students and was replicated to all two-year CUNY schools with similar success.