Single Stop nonprofit program headed to BRCC

Baton Rouge Community College moved a step closer this week to bringing a program to its campus that administrators believe will boost retention rates and make it easier for students to graduate.

The board that oversees BRCC gave the school permission to enter into an agreement with New York-based nonprofit, Single Stop USA.

Single Stop’s mission is to connect low-income families with the benefits and services they qualify for, but may not know about.

Its mission jibes with research that shows some of the most common barriers that prevent students from earning a college degree are outside of the classroom and not related to academics.

Single parenthood, landlord-tenant disputes and a lack of access to health benefits are some of the most often cited impediments to graduation that higher education leaders talk about. At the same time, every year billions of dollars in tax credits and Medicaid benefits go unused.

In response, Single Stop offers free financial counseling, legal advice, and assistance with child care, health care and groceries.

In the school setting, the idea is to have a specific place on campus where students can seek assistance with problems that would otherwise cause them to miss classes or drop out entirely.

Single Stop generally identifies one institution in a state, and then uses that college as an “anchor” before branching out to other areas of the state.

Delgado Community College campus in New Orleans was the first Louisiana school to open a Single Stop office three years ago.

Delgado Chancellor Monty Sullivan said Single Stop counselors have worked with about 10 percent of the student body helping them with housing services, transportation and income tax forms.

Maybe not so coincidentally, Sullivan said he’s also seen a 10 percent jump in his school’s student retention rate since Single Stop counselors started working in New Orleans.

“This has made a tremendous difference,” Sullivan said. “We anticipate the numbers will be even higher this spring. Seldom do people fail because of academics alone...It’s often the social and financial issues that students can’t overcome.”

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation also has been a big supporter of the program. BRAF gave Delgado a $600,000 grant to start its Single Stop program out of the $100 million “Future of the Gulf” funding it received from BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil disaster.

BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma said the organization is committing an additional $5 million over five years for future expansion of the program across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Under the donation agreement with BP, the foundation is required to use the BP funds to benefit different causes across the Gulf Coast.

The Single Stop program has been compared favorably to New York City’s Harlem Children Zone project for kids, which also seeks to keep students in the classroom and free of external distractions.

BRCC Chancellor Andrea Miller said the Single Stop could open on her campus as soon as January. Staff will initially include a full-time social worker and a full-time program coordinator with financial counselors and other personnel working seasonally or as needed.

“This is important because most of our students don’t persist not because they’re not able to do the work,” Miller said. “It’s managing finances. Our students are working full-time and trying to go to school full-time. When they can’t find the financial resources that are available to them, they don’t persist.”