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NiswongerCARE College and Career Advising Initiative


The Niswonger Foundation and the school systems of Northeast Tennessee have been able to sustain the post-secondary and career advisement supported through the i3 grant funds that implemented the initiative from 2011-2015. As the i3 grant ended, the Niswonger Foundation sought a partner to join in this effort, and received a grant from Care Foundation of America. Tom Davenport, Chairman of the Board of Care Foundation, immediately understood the need for sustaining a focus on post-secondary education.

NiswongerCARE was initiated for the 2015-16 school year. This program serves 30 high schools in the Niswonger Consortium of School Systems and impacts nearly 30,000 high school students. The program combines the skills gained in the i3 grant project with elements of a model used by the College Advising Corp. With this model, the Niswonger Foundation supports and enhances the important work already being accomplished by the region's high school counselors.

The program staffing includes a Leadership team comprised of a Program Director, Denise Arnold, a master’s prepared counselor who also holds an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Counselor Leadership; two Associate Directors, Anita Kilbourne-Greer and Shawn Stewart, both master’s prepared counselors with extensive experience in college and career advising; eleven baccalaureate level specialists, and two interns from the graduate counseling program at East Tennessee State University. (Please see "Meet the NiswongerCARE Staff" in the "About Us" section of this website).

This innovative staffing model serves more than the purpose of assisting high school students with career and post-secondary education planning. By using a purposeful design of professional counselors, less experienced near-peer professionals, and graduate school interns, this cost effective model functions as a training and development opportunity for a new generation of young professionals who will be serving Northeast Tennessee beyond the scope of this grant. For those who continue in school counseling, they are gaining a wealth of practical experience and professional development opportunities.

Description of the Advisor Training:

Advisors receive comprehensive training designed to prepare them to help students with the myriad of college going milestones from exploring post-secondary opportunities, navigating the college admissions maze, applying for financial aid, registering and preparing for the ACT, to transitioning to college. Training also focuses on the importance of collaborating with counselors, teachers and administrators to imbed a college-going culture into the life of the school.

Because it is important to help students choose the college or program that is the right fit for them, Advisors are provided with the opportunity to visit public and private post-secondary institutions in our region in order to have first-hand knowledge regarding majors and programs, cost, application deadlines, and available financial aid and scholarships. Not only do the advisors have the benefit of learning from the extensive counseling and college advising experience of the program’s leadership team, but they are also provided the opportunity to interact with other experts in the field.

Description of NiswongerCARE Programming:

NiswongerCARE Advisors work in partnership with the administrators and counselors in each school to help our students achieve their future goals. Whether its four years at an Ivy League school, two years at a local community college, or twelve months at a TCAT, Advisors help students to prepare for the most fulfilling future of their choice.

This program prioritizes four campaigns throughout the school year.

  • Campaign 1: College Applications/TN Promise
    (August, September)
  • Campaign 2: FAFSA Frenzy/TN Promise
    (October, November, December)
  • Campaign 3: FAFSA Completion/College Planning Night
    (January, February, March)
  • Campaign 4: College Signing Day/College Transition
    (April, May, June, July)

Once the school year is over, programming strategies focus on supporting new high school graduates through the transitional summer between high school graduation and post-secondary matriculation. Low-income and first-generation students are particularly susceptible to “summer melt” as they have no one with a working knowledge of the college access process to turn to and often lack the self-advocacy skills needed to reach out to unknown individuals at their respective post-secondary institutions. Once students have graduated, they are assigned their summer program advisor who will be responsible for following this student throughout the summer months. The program primarily utilizes texting to communicate with students. Live meetings take place in a public place, such as the college campus or a coffee shop. Through this program, students receive support and encouragement throughout the summer. Final contact with students will be mid-September, once they’ve started fall classes.

Program Success

  • Post-secondary matriculation rates have steadily increased since the implementation of the Niswonger Foundation’s college and career programming efforts. In 2011, Northeast Tennessee’s college-going rate of 50.6% was well below the state average of 55.7%. Data in 2016 shows the region now equals the state’s rate of 61%.
    College=Going Rate Chart
  • FAFSA completion rates have steadily increased over the program’s baseline rate of 61% in 2014-15. The most recent data reflects that over 86% of the region’s seniors filed a FAFSA, which equates to approximately $2.6 million dollars of potential federal aid awards for the region’s students.
    FAFSA Filing ChartFAFSA Results Chart
  • Summer programming initiatives have resulted in 69% of first generation and lower income students matriculating to a post-secondary institution the fall after graduation.
    Summer Melt Facts