The economic health of a community depends in large part on the skills of its workforce. Because most jobs today require a college degree or career credential, one of SCORE’s top priorities is to increase the number of Tennesseans who complete education beyond high school. Beyond building a strong workforce to provide economic support to our communities, higher education also provides citizens a path to economic independence. 

SCORE’s Data Playbook — Community-Based College Success Programs: A Playbook For Data-Driven Student Support — spotlights programs across Tennessee that are increasing enrollment in and completion of college and career training by using data to fine-tune their programs. We’re examining these programs on SCORE Blog to highlight their efforts so that you can learn from their experience and jump-start your own work in this area. 

This week, we highlight, NiswongerCARE, a program that works with 30 high schools in northeast Tennessee to increase degree completion rates. Through near-peer advising and their Big Bright Future initiative, NiswongerCARE builds relationships with students to help them develop a plan for after high school and also provides intensive summer support to recent high school graduates. 

Near-Peer Advising 

Following the College Advising Corps’ near-peer adviser model, NiswongerCARE recruits and trains recent college graduates to serve as college and career advisers to approximately 6,000 high school seniors each year. Ten full-time college and career advisers and three part-time graduate interns provide personalized postsecondary planning support to high school juniors and seniors. Advisers work one-on-one with students to help them research and evaluate their best match and fit postsecondary options.  

Students receive ongoing coaching and support from their adviser through the college application, FAFSA, and scholarship submission processes. CARE advisers are also responsible for academic coaching and family engagement and regularly work with students to develop behaviors and skills needed for postsecondary success, including self-advocacy, time management, and organization. Advisers conduct regular outreach to parents to share updates and discuss goals for their child. In the spring, advisers meet with students and their families to review postsecondary options and finalize a matriculation decision.  

Tackling Summer Melt 

In addition to working with students to develop a postsecondary plan, NiswongerCARE offers intensive summer support to help recent high school graduates follow through on those plans. Through the Big Bright Future initiative, each November advisers identify high school seniors who are most at risk for summer melt — the phenomenon where students who intended to go to college graduate from high school but do not enroll for the fall semester. Advisers keep more detailed records on these students and send them personalized text messages. Adviser caseloads are organized by the postsecondary institution students plan to attend, increasing adviser efficiency by grouping together students who are working through the same enrollment tasks.  

In 2019, NiswongerCARE reported that 74 percent of students who signed up to receive summer support went on to enroll at a postsecondary institution in the fall after high school graduation. For 2020, they report a rate of 66 percent. While there is no exact statewide comparison due to the opt-in nature of this program, across Tennessee only 58.1 percent of college-intending high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education the fall after their graduation.  

The Data Playbook fills a gap in current postsecondary completion efforts; its goal is to help communities learn from experiences elsewhere and jump-start their own work using data to support student success. Download the Playbook today and start forming your own ideas on how to support students in your community. 

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Dr. Richard Bailey is SCORE’s director of strategic practice and data.SCORE’s communications manager, Diane Hughes, contributed to this post.