Catholic Charities awarded grant to help college students ‘Stay the Course’

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph was recently awarded a $1.2 million grant from Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Texas, to provide comprehensive case management services to low-income students at the Metropolitan Community College campuses, in a program called Stay the Course. Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the program designer, successfully launched it in 2013, and planned to replicate the program in five additional cities. Currently Stay the Course is active or beginning at Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, and four satellite Catholic Charities agencies: South Bend-Fort Wayne, Ind., Charlotte, NC, Columbus, Ohio and now Kansas City-St. Joseph. Through case management, Catholic Charities-KCSJ hopes to encourage and enable community college students to persist in their education, graduate and improve the trajectory of their earning potential.

Stay the Course was designed to combat the staggeringly high drop-out rate among community college students. Research in Tarrant County, Texas and across the U.S., showed six years post-enrollment in a community college, only 39 percent of students had earned a degree or certificate, while 42 percent had dropped out altogether. Added to those numbers is the fact that economically disadvantaged students are already three times less likely to complete college than those on a more solid financial footing.

Knowing the value and impact of case management services, Catholic Charities-Fort Worth developed a protocol where each low-income student was paired with a “Navigator,” who formed a trusting relationship with the student. Navigators set goals, met weekly with their student and helped them overcome obstacles that might have impeded their progress toward degree completion. Since case management is individualized, the exact form the Navigation takes depends on the student’s circumstances. It could mean providing emergency financial assistance for unplanned expenses including car repair or healthcare bills, helping source affordable child care, or arranging complimentary work and school schedules.

Catholic Charities-KCSJ plans to hire and train Navigators to provide case management services to 120 students at the five Metropolitan Community College campuses so they Stay the Course, beginning with the upcoming Fall 2019 semester. Their working MCC partner is Karen Moore, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Services and Enrollment management. The grant for Stay the Course covers 55 months of case management services and attendant expenses from Fall 2019.

“At Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to address the underlying causes of poverty and to serve the poor in a more profound way,” CEO Chris Ice said. “Coming from a higher education background, I was excited to learn Stay the Course is different from existing intervention programs in that it extends beyond academic counseling to address students’ social, financial, academic and personal impediments to achieving a college degree.”

When Catholic Charities-Fort Worth launched Stay the Course in 2013, they wanted to measure its effectiveness, so they enlisted the help of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. After three years of analysis, LEO concluded students paired with a Navigator increased their success of graduating at a rate four times higher than those who didn’t receive services. This was especially true among females who received the case management “Navigator” services — 31.5 percent of females graduated after three years compare to less than 1 percent of those not receiving case management services. The results clearly show the increased likelihood of earning a degree or certificate and the decreased likelihood of allowing educational pursuits to become dormant for participating students. Males receiving services also had higher rates of graduation according to LEO’s analysis.

Kathrine Swanson, Ed.D., Vice Chancellor for Student Success and Engagement said, on behalf of Karen Moore, “The Metropolitan Community College system is committed to our mission of preparing students, serving communities, and creating opportunities. Our vision is to be a high-performing institution that is learning-centered, affordable and aligned around student success.  As evidenced in our MCC on the MOVE Strategic Plan, MCC strives to maximize student success and improve student outcomes for course completion, persistence and completion.”  Dr. Swanson added, “About 68 percent of our full-time students persist from fall to fall, with 32 percent not returning. Not all of the remaining students drop out of higher education altogether, this also includes those students who start at MCC, but transfer to a four-year institution prior to completing a degree at MCC.”

She said realizing the MCC vision would entail moving from a more generalized student success approach to adopting a personalized/individualized approach to student success; Implement pathways designed to promote student retention, progress, and completion; Close the achievement gap for underrepresented students through the intentional use of data and metrics to create robust support mechanisms and programs for students; and Identify and remove institutional barriers to student completion. All of these would benefit from Navigators and case management.

Dr. Swanson concluded, “Students drop out for many reasons, often non-academic, and feedback from surveys of non-returning students indicate that it is often financial or life circumstances that present barriers to persistence. Through the additional case management and access to emergency funding when needed, we expect that low income students will have assistance in overcoming their non-academic barriers to persistence and completion, allowing them to complete their degrees, leading to fulfilling jobs that will provide family-sustaining wages in the long-term.”

“This program has the potential to cur off poverty at its root. For low income students who ‘Stay the Course,’ they will meet the demand for higher education required by businesses today,” Catholic Charities-KCSJ Chief Operating Officer and Stay the Course Champion, Sunny Jones said. As Champion, Jones will oversee the Stay the Course program at all five MCC campuses. Christie Dade is the Stay the Course Program Manager and will manage the Navigators and their case management services. Low-income students will learn of the protocol and 120 will be recruited; about 24 per campus.

When the first 55-month term concludes, both Jones and Dade hope participating students will have achieved success and graduated. Jones added she would love to see gainful, “sustainable employment among the graduates so they can begin the movement out of poverty.” Dade said that when students drop out of college, they incur the costs of education without the success and achievement of completion. Graduating or achieving a certificate can be followed by employment and a living wage. “A living wage is one of the best ways to get out of poverty!” she added.


  1. November 12, 2019 at 10:57 am #

    Hi I am a student at Metropolitan community college Blue River in Kansas City, Missouri and i was wondering if I was able to apply for stay the course because when i tried to do it online the only options that came up were MCC Longview, and MCC Penn Valley so I was not sure if this applied to the other MCC Campuses or just to those two please get back to me when you gt a chance I would love to hear more about stay the course because from what I have seen this is definitely something that could help me out a lot as I have a lot of personal non academic issues in my life right now that is affecting my academic abilities and causes me to struggle quite often and I could use something like this to help me out and help me make it through college

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October 20, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph