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NiswongerCARE College and Career Advising Initiative


The NiswongerCARE college and career advising program was initiated for the 2015-2016 school year. This program serves 30 high schools in Northeast Tennessee that are affiliates of the Niswonger Consortium of School Systems and impacts nearly 30,000 high school students. The program is designed to support partnering schools in developing a stronger college-going and career-ready culture, ensuring that all students have access to resources and support needed to reach their future goals. Through this programming, the Niswonger Foundation provides support to enhance the important work already being accomplished by the region's high school counselors in preparing students for post-secondary education.

Program Staffing

The program staffing currently 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; ten baccalaureate level specialists, and three interns from the graduate counseling programs at East Tennessee State University, Milligan College, and Carson-Newman University. (Additional information about the staff can be found at "Meet the NiswongerCARE Staff" in the "About Us" section of this website).

NiswongerCARE uses an innovative staffing model that incorporates 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 program. For those who continue in school counseling, they are gaining a wealth of practical experience and professional development opportunities.

Advisor Training

Advisors receive comprehensive training designed to prepare them to help students with the myriad of college going milestones, such as, exploring careers and post-secondary opportunities, navigating the college admissions maze, applying for financial aid, registering and preparing for the ACT, and 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 trained on the Appreciative Advising framework in order to help students realize and achieve their greatest hopes and dreams. Advisors are also provided the opportunity to visit public and private post-secondary institutions and colleges of applied technology 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.


NiswongerCARE Advisors work in partnership with the administrators and counselors in each school to help students achieve their future goals. Whether a student intends to pursue a four-year degree 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 five campaigns throughout the school year.


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, but face to face meetings are also held if a student needs more assistance. 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.


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 from 2018 shows the region’s college going rate now exceeds 62%.

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 87% 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 Chart

BIG*BRIGHT*FUTURE is the summer programming initiative to help mitigate summer melt.

Summer Melt Facts