Program overview

  • Providing post-secondary supports to reduce dropout rates: Stay the Course, a program designed by Catholic Charities Fort Worth, is a comprehensive student success program designed to help community college students complete their degrees. In a recent evaluation, participants in Stay the Course were more likely than their peers to persist in and graduate from community college.

  • Connecting students to social workers: Typically, Stay the Course is administered by a local social service agency, in partnership with a community college. Students are paired with a trained social worker, called a “navigator,” who helps them overcome individual barriers to college completion. This support may include finding affordable child care, advising on coursework, advising decisions about transferring to four-year colleges, and more.

  • Offering emergency financial assistance: Students in Stay the Course are eligible to apply for emergency financial assistance (EFA). EFA is designed for non-academic expenses that could negatively impact a student’s persistence in college. Common uses of the fund included transportation, housing, childcare, and school supplies. Navigators are not involved in funding decisions in order to not affect their relationship with their students.

  • Providing a higher degree of support: The supports provided by navigators are designed to be more holistic and intensive than those provided through traditional college counseling. Typically, navigators meet with students once per month in-person, but are also available by phone or text as needed.

A single study with a rigorous design suggests that Stay the Course is a promising strategy for increasing community college persistence and increasing degree completion among women.

  • Target outreach to students who may benefit most: Stay the Course provides a valuable safety net for students who are at risk of not completing community college. Community colleges can use metrics associated with non-completion (e.g., enrollment in developmental coursework, attendance data, etc.) to identify students who may need additional support. They can also conduct specialized outreach to recommend Stay the Course to groups that disproportionately experience attrition, such as first generation students or students with children.

  • Minimize barriers to accessing emergency financial assistance: Stay the Course offers Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA) to assist students in addressing non-academic issues that may impact their ability to complete community college. As students may need to access these funds on short-notice, organizations replicating Stay the Course should streamline the process for applying for EFA. In particular, ensuring payments can be issued quickly and in a way accessible to all participants should be a priority.

  • Cap caseloads for navigators: Stay the Course navigators should have a lower caseload than a typical college counselor, given the high level of support they are expected to provide to each student. A lower case load will enable social workers to meet student needs more rapidly and more effectively.

  • Leverage program data: Community colleges should collect data on student academic outcomes (e.g., credit accumulation) and program engagement (e.g., participation in counseling sessions). These data can build support for the program by demonstrating its effectiveness, but also inform service delivery (e.g., navigators can use data on academic performance to identify students in need of additional support).