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Image by Kody Dahl


The NiswongerCARE program is committed to the schools and students in Northeast Tennessee through our work to develop a stronger college-going and career ready culture, with the expectation for post-secondary attainment for all. This commitment aligns with former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign – which has a goal that 55% of Tennesseans will have a post-secondary credential by the year 2025. The CARE program started in the 2015-2016 academic school year and is still going strong today. Our program serves 26 high schools in Northeast Tennessee, is available to 30,000 high school students, and is currently funded through the state of Tennessee's generosity and support. 

Based on the experience of the Niswonger Foundation’s former college access program and other successful college advising programs (such as the College Advising Corps³), our program has increased student access to college and career advising. The staffing includes a director, an associate director, eleven baccalaureate level specialists, and three graduate school interns (from the counseling programs at Milligan University, Carson-Newman University, and East Tennessee State University).

Using a purposeful near-peer staffing model of professionals, the program will function 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 will continue in school counseling, they will have gained a wealth of practical experience and professional development opportunities. We enjoy the work that we do and are excited to be able to assist the students and families in our high schools and this region.

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When NiswongerCARE began working in schools, the college-going rate in our part of the state was well below the rest of TN. Above, you can see the impact that our program has had, bringing the average within 1-2% of the state and even surpassing it at times.

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FAFSA completion data from the U.S. Department of Education reflects that 89% of the students in our service area submitted the FAFSA application, equating to 5,378 seniors, with 82% of those students who completed the application and verification process.



Advisors spent this past summer assisting recent high school graduates through our Summer Melt Initiative, Big*Bright*Future (B*B*F), as they prepared to start their journey into post-secondary education this fall. The program’s mission is to help mitigate “Summer Melt” which can be best described as the phenomena in which students graduate high school, are admitted to and plan to attend a post-secondary institution, but never enroll. Students received weekly, personalized text messages based on their college choice that continued until September. Advisors also tracked and monitored progress of students, meeting them where they were and encouraged them through the final steps to enrollment, while informing them of post-secondary updates, changes, and deadlines.

  • In 2023, B*B*F had a matriculation rate of 72%, meaning that out of the 860 students that participated in the program, 619 enrolled and attended a post-secondary institution. 

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