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 seven CUNY two-year colleges with open enrollment, to launch Strategic Partnerships for Achievement and Retention at Kingsborough (SPARK).

SPARK is designed to close the educational and employment gap of at-risk students in need of developmental education so that they can complete their education at KCC ready to transfer to a four-year CUNY institution, or prepared for job entry.

The SPARK model provides a range of customized financial, academic, and personal support to both incoming and continuing students, as well as comprehensive case management, including SingleStop* services.

  • 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 holistically address financial, academic, and personal challenges to college retention, and receive placement in new Learning Communities designed exclusively for continuing students’ career readiness and exploration.

Students recruited for the SPARK program generally received the lowest scores on the CUNY reading, writing, and math entrance exams and were placed into the lowest level English and Math courses. They have shown dramatic results due to their participation in the program.

  • Although starting at the lowest level of developmental education, the Fall 2016 SPARK cohort achieved significantly higher first semester developmental course pass rates, higher GPAs, and higher accumulated credits than their non-SPARK peers enrolled in developmental English and Math courses. They also achieved significantly higher pass rates than students enrolled in developmental courses during past semesters.
  • Retention rates among all three SPARK cohorts are significantly higher than rates among other Kingsborough freshman populations. First semester-to-second semester retention rates stand at 91.1% and 93.3% for the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 cohorts, respectively, and the year-to-year retention rate stands at 82.9% for the Fall 2016 cohort, surpassing the initial goal of 77%.
  • Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 SPARK English cohort students completed the English developmental course sequence at rates of 54.5% and 80%, respectively, which is significantly higher than regular Fall 2015 developmental English students who completed the English developmental course sequence at a rate of 36%.
  • Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 SPARK Math cohort students completed the Math developmental course sequence at rates of 58% and 8%, respectively, which is significantly higher than regular Fall 2015 developmental Math students who completed the English developmental course sequence at a rate of 36%.
  • One year completion rates for SPARK participants are, at the very least, marginally higher than the rates for regular Kingsborough students.

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 ASAP 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. The SPARK cost per freshman student for the 2016-2017 academic year was $2,062.31 and is projected to decrease to $1,257 per student for the 2017-2018 academic year.


*The Foundation’s previous support of KCC 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.