|Hoang Pham, 24, a senior at Texas A&M Commerce, is one of many students who have used the help of the Catholic Charities' Stay the Course program to succeed in school and plan for their future, photographed outside of Tarrant County College Southeast in Arlington, Sept. 11, 2020. (NTC/Ben Torres)
Despite a global pandemic, the Catholic Charities Fort Worth program Stay the Course® not only met, but exceeded many of its 2020 goals.
Stay the Course helps low-income Tarrant County College students overcome non-academic barriers to graduation such as transportation, housing, budget, or time management challenges.
“We initially anticipated a big drop off in our students because of the pandemic. Not only did we not lose students, but we graduated one more than we anticipated,” Judith Priest, director of client navigation for CCFW, said.
The program had 57 spring graduates, 26 summer graduates, and Priest anticipates at least 32 more graduates in December. Students graduate from Stay the Course when they complete an associate degree or transfer to a four-year college.
By September, Stay the Course already had exceeded its annual out-of-poverty goal of 10, with 12 students reaching that goal. CCFW defines out of poverty as earning a living wage, having assets totaling at least $1,000 per household member, no negative debt, and demonstrating six months of savings behavior within 12 months.
Additionally, 16 full-time navigators, or case managers, served 626 unduplicated clients by September, putting them on track to meet or exceed their goal of 704 by the end of the year.
Priest said Stay the Course offers “supercharged” case management that includes low caseloads for navigators, holistic wrap-around services, and long-term involvement with each student.
She said traditional case managers serve about 100 clients, meeting with them only once a month or less. In contrast, Stay the Course navigators work with 35 to 40 students, meeting face-to-face with them every two weeks, and connecting with them weekly by text, email, or phone.
Hoang Trong Phuc Pham graduated from Stay the Course in 2019 and currently pursues a B.S. in chemistry from Texas A&M-Commerce. While at TCC, he applied for Stay the Course with the goal of completing an associate degree. Today he dreams of earning a Master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in order to do scientific research.
With his navigator’s support, Pham applied for and received a TCC scholarship, learned how to file income taxes, and how to find a doctor to treat a badly blistered foot after an accident with boiling water.
“If I didn’t have a navigator, I don’t know how I would finish school,” he said.
Robin Dunlap, who has worked with her Stay the Course navigator for a year, said organizational, financial, and personal challenges “had been holding me back.” She said her navigator is “someone you can really lean on, who can motivate you and give you tools so that you can support yourself … even after you are out of the program.”
Dunlap currently works full-time, attends TCC, takes online classes from Tarleton State University, and will graduate from Stay the Course in December.
Stay the Course began in 2013 as a research project with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame and TCC.
LEO no longer collects that data because it has proven that the program works in Tarrant County. However, the program lives on, reducing dropouts one student — one relationship — at a time.