FORT WAYNE — Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has been awarded the first-ever replication site designation for Stay the Course, a program designed to help low-income community college students graduate and thereby increase their earnings potential. CCFWSB will collaborate with the University of Notre Dame, which will monitor the new program in Fort Wayne. This opportunity was awarded by Catholic Charities Fort Worth, Texas, which, along with Notre Dame, created Stay the Course to provide high-level case management to improve the graduation rates for low-income community college students.
“We are thrilled that we have been chosen to participate in this project and will be staffing up right away to implement it,” says Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend CEO Gloria Whitcraft. “We have been operating a similar program for more than 20 years, so we know the great value that Stay the Course will add to our community.”
The agency is now offering the opportunity for qualified professionals to be a part of this new project in Allen County. By Aug. 1, it will hire a Stay the Course program manager, three navigators to provide the intensive case management to eligible students, and one program specialist to assist the entire team.
“By boosting the potential for participating students, we believe the success of Stay the Course will have a positive impact on economic development in our area,” said Whitcraft.
Four years ago, Catholic Charities Fort Worth partnered with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame to create Stay the Course.
“All this work means more evidence for the interventions, more influence with policymakers, and a sustainable path out of poverty for so many individuals and families,” said Heather Reynolds, president/CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth.
Early results from Fort Worth are very encouraging.
After three years, Stay the Course students were two times more likely to stay in school, and female Stay the Course students were almost four times more likely to stay in school.
Also, 25 percent of female Stay the Course students completed a degree or certificate after three years compared to almost no one in the relevant comparison group; and after completing one year in the program, the second cohort of students were two times less likely to drop out of school than the relevant comparison group.
According to Lisa, a recent graduate of the Fort Worth program, “[Those at Stay the Course] may not realize it, but they may be one of the few people in a person’s life who are investing in them, who are encouraging them and who are believing in them by taking a chance … Today, I’m at the University of North Texas and I’m looking really good for the future.”
The graduation rate for community college students is generally poor. Stay the Course has proven to make a significant impact on improving graduation rates in Texas. Because of these positive results, Stay the Course is now ready for replication across the nation.
“We will continue to rigorously evaluate the program at the new site in Fort Wayne as it impacts student persistence and completion at Ivy Tech Community College,” said a statement from James Sullivan, Rev. Thomas J. McDonagh, C.S.C., Associate Professor of Economics at Notre Dame. “This important work will inform service providers and policymakers about how best to improve outcomes for low-income students at community colleges.”
How the program works
Stay the Course addresses two of the most common barriers to completion of college: personal obstacles as well as social and institutional barriers.
A Stay the Course navigator works one-on-one to understand each student’s situation, build rapport and identify goals. Navigators have a maximum caseload of 40 students, so they are able to work with each person to create a customized path to success.
Students create their own goals and navigators work with them to design the action steps needed to achieve them. Action steps are frequently revisited to evaluate progress and make changes as needed.
Because research shows unexpected financial shocks, (e.g. a broken-down car or large medical expense) can contribute to high dropout rates, Stay the Course students can apply to receive up to $500 per semester (capped at a total of $1,500) to address these issues.
The navigator-student relationship is based on mutual expectations to stay in frequent contact. Navigators will serve as a resource for students and are embedded on campus. They work closely with campus staff on issues including enrollment, attendance and financial aid.
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