Big College-Going Success in Latest Round of Rural Tennessee Expansion Counties
PARSONS, Tenn. – Janet Ayers, President of The Ayers Foundation, announced today significant
increases in 2022 college-going rates in seven rural Tennessee counties thanks to the help and
support of The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program (AFSP.)
In 2021, with the support of Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly, The Ayers
Foundation partnered with the State of Tennessee through the Governor’s Rural Education
Foundation to scale The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program (AFSP) to more priority communities,
adding new high schools in seven rural, economically distressed or at-risk counties: Benton,
Claiborne, Hardin, Haywood, Lewis, Union, and Wayne.
After just one year of AFSP support, the overall college-going rate in the seven 2021 expansion
counties increased from 46% to 65% – an average 19-percentage point increase in just the first
year. These dramatic jumps occurred even while state and national college-going rates have been
declining in recent years due in part to the impact of the pandemic.
“Thanks to the continued trust and support of Governor Lee and the General Assembly, and the
dedicated work of our Ayers counselors with local educators, school leaders, students, and parents,
we are very pleased to see and report these big jumps in college-going rates in the latest counties and
high schools we serve,” said Janet Ayers, President of The Ayers Foundation. “Our mission is to
improve the quality of life of people of rural Tennessee, and we believe education and increased
employability that will lead to higher standards of living are key.”
The Ayers Foundation Scholars Program is a nationally-recognized highly effective college access
and counseling program delivering outsized results for students in more than 20 high schools across
12 rural Tennessee counties.
Founded in 1999 in a single high school, the program has shown dramatic success in increasing
college-going, persistence, and completion rates for students who enroll in a range of postsecondary
experiences, including technical, community and four-year colleges and universities, and the military.
The AFSP has achieved this success through an unwavering commitment to its unique model:
investing in an expert, full-time, trained advisor to serve as the student’s champion, coach, guide and
technical and emotional supporter from 8th grade through the postsecondary experience and beyond.
“Tennessee is leading the nation in expanding educational opportunities across our state’s rural
communities,” said Governor Bill Lee. “I commend The Ayers Foundation for its partnership to support
students, strengthen our workforce, and transform rural Tennessee.”
Detailed county-by-county 2022 college-going results for the seven most recent AFSP
expansion counties are attached.
Serving primarily low-income, first-generation, rural students, The Ayers Foundation Scholars
Program defines success in terms of moving the needle on student access and completion, and it
invests in the resources students need to realize those opportunities.
Prior to the 2021 expansion, the program served five rural counties in Tennessee. Participating
communities have seen extraordinary success, with up to an 87% college-going rate and up to an
82% college-completion rate while helping students obtain more than $150 million in grants and
“We are gratified to see these big gains in the expansion counties after just one year, but we are not
satisfied. Our goal is to help every student gain the skills and training they need after high school to
pursue a rewarding career and be truly workforce-ready for employers across our state,” said Janet
Ayers. ‘We’re excited to continue and build upon this important work.”