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Findings from RCT Grants

A Replication Randomized Controlled Trial of Stay the Course, Measuring Enrollment and Degree Completion by Low-Income Community College Students

This well-conducted RCT found no statistically significant effects on college enrollment or degree completion six semesters after random assignment.

Grantee: University of Notre Dame. The final study report is linked here.

Description of the Intervention: Stay the Course is a comprehensive case management program designed to help community college students address personal, social, and economic barriers to completing their degrees. Originally implemented at Tarrant County College (TCC), a large community college system in Fort Worth, Texas, the program assigns participants a coach who creates a customized service plan to aid students in accomplishing their academic goals and navigating the community college system. Stay the Course also provides students with access to emergency financial assistance as needed. A previous randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the program, conducted at TCC’s Trinity River campus, found effects on college enrollment and completion for program participants that were suggestively positive but not yet reliable since the effects for the full sample were not quite statistically significant.1

Study Design: This study is a replication RCT that randomly assigned a new sample of 261 low-income students at TCC’s Trinity River and Northwest campuses to either a treatment group that was offered access to Stay the Course, or a control group that was not offered the program but had access to the usual services offered by their college. Sample members averaged 27 years of age, and were 70% female, 26% Black, and 39% Hispanic. The study measured outcomes using administrative data from TCC and the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC).

Impact on the Primary Outcome: The study found the following impacts on the study’s two primary pre-registered outcomes, measured six semesters after random assignment: (i) no statistically significant effect on college enrollment (50.2% of the treatment group was still enrolled vs. 53.5% of the control group); and (ii) no statistically significant effect on degree completion (38.1% of the treatment group had earned a degree vs. 38.6% of the control group). In their final report, the study authors discuss possible explanations for Stay the Course’s observed lack of effects in this study (e.g., higher than expected enrollment and completion rates for the control group, based on historical patterns at the participating colleges).

Study Quality: Based on a careful review, we believe the study was well-conducted and produced valid findings.2

  1. 1

    The p-values for Stay the Course’s effects on enrollment and degree completion in this earlier trial ranged from 0.10 to 0.17.

  2. 2

    For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by highly similar treatment and control groups), no sample attrition, and valid analyses that were publicly pre-registered.