This randomized controlled trial was conducted within the Trinity River Campus of Tarrant County College (TCC), which is a large community college in Fort Worth, TX. The study was conducted between 2013 and 2016.
To be considered eligible to be in the study, students needed to be: "(1) enrolled in at least 9 credit hours at TCC; (2) degree seeking; (3) age 18 years or older; (4) satisfied at least one Texas Success Initiative (TSI) standard; (5) newly enrolled or have earned a Cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 at TCC to date; (6) accumulated less than 30 credit hours at TCC to date; and (7) Pell eligible or fall below 200% of the poverty line (based on reported income on the FASFA)" (p.13).
Among the students randomly assigned to the Stay the Course condition, 62.8% were female, 18.4% were Black, 40.5% were White, 2.7% were Asian, 37.7% were another race, and 47.7% were Hispanic. These students had an average family income of $22,576 and an expected family contribution of $768.
Among the students randomly assigned to the Emergency Financial Aid (EFA-only) group, 64.2% were female, 24.1% were Black, 41.8% were White, 3.7% were Asian, 30.4% were another race, and 43.8% were Hispanic. These students had an average family income of $22,906 and an expected family contribution of $761.
Among the students randomly assigned to Comparison group, 68.1% were female, 21.6% were Black, 40.8% were White, 3.5% were Asian, 34.9% were another race, and 46.0% were Hispanic. These students had an average family income of $20,756 and an expected family contribution of $650.
The primary intervention of interest, Stay the Course, entails comprehensive case management meant to help low-income community college students persist in school and complete an Associate's Degree. Stay the Course was designed by Catholic Charities Fort Worth and is meant to help students address personal obstacles that undermine degree attainment. Stay the Course requires that each student be paired with a trained social worker, called a navigator. Navigators help students via coaching, mentoring, and referral services. It is recommended that students and navigators meet in person once a month. Students who receive Stay the Course also have access to limited EFA that can be used for non-academic expenses to improve their persistence in college.
The second intervention that was studied was provision of EFA access only. EFA receipt required that students demonstrate an immediate financial need, and that an unmet need would undermine their academic progress. Needs that generally qualified for assistance were ones that were "foreseeable, controllable, and temporary" (e.g., car repair, rent, utilities). EFA eligibility was restricted to students with a cumulative GPA of a 2.0 (this was waived for first semester students) and being enrolled in at least 9 credits at the time of EFA application. EFA could reach up to $500 per semester and was capped at $1,500 total over a three-year period.
The control group received standard community college services.
Support for implementation
At the start of the study in 2013, program guidelines indicated that student-navigator meetings should occur at least once per month, but the actual frequency of meetings occurred at navigator discretion. This changed in 2015; the program supervisor set specific benchmarks for navigator-student interactions so as to promote fidelity of program implementation. These benchmarks required reciprocal contact (email, text, phone) to occur at least once per week, in-person meetings every two weeks, and completion of a service planning goal once every three weeks.