The Ayers Foundation Trust Announces Latest Round of College Access and Success Expansion

Jul 05, 2023

PARSONS, Tenn. – The Ayers Foundation Trust recently announced that 10 additional counties across Tennessee have been selected to participate in the Ayers Scholars Program, the organization’s nationally-acclaimed   college access and success initiative.

Leveraging state funding through the Governor’s Rural Education Foundation, the Ayers Scholars Program will be supporting even more students when schools open this year in Bledsoe, Campbell, Cocke, Houston, Lauderdale, Lawrence, McNairy, Meigs, Scott, and Warren counties. With this expansion, the Ayers Scholars Program will soon be operating in and supporting students in more than half of the state’s economically at-risk and distressed counties across all three grand divisions of the state.

“We are proud of the proven success our Scholars Program has demonstrated over the past twenty years, and we are grateful to Governor Lee and the legislature for their continued confidence and support in expanding this opportunity to more students in the state,” said Janet Ayers, President of the Ayers Foundation Trust. “Supporting rural Tennessee and its future workforce and economic development is what we do. Today’s announcement helps us continue that important work in even more areas of the state.”

Founded in 1999, the Ayers Scholars Program already serves students in 19 high schools and two community colleges across 12 rural Tennessee counties. By providing schools with full-time, trained advisors, counselors are able to give students the guidance and support they need, from 8th grade through college or another post-secondary path.

“I am pleased to see this partnership between the Governor’s Rural Education Foundation and the Ayers Scholars Program continue to expand and help meet the needs of students and employers all across the state,” said Governor Lee. “It’s critical that we work together to spur economic growth, and prepare all students for future work and success, and that’s especially true in our most rural communities.”

During the month of May, the Ayers Foundation Trust put out a request for proposals to all qualifying Tennessee counties. After a competitive RFP process that elicited numerous responses and letters of support, Ayers Scholars Program leaders during June completed a thorough review of all responses, followed by an in-depth round of on-site visits and interviews with each finalist before announcing today’s selections. 

“Too often our most at-risk or distressed rural communities have the passion and dedication, but too few resources to truly improve college access and success among their high school students,” said Dr. Burton Williams, Chief Executive Officer of the Ayers Foundation Trust. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to help support this latest round of communities and schools, with a student-support model that has been setting the standard for our state.”

Based on a recently released analysis by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission of the Class of 2022, the college-going rate in the rural high schools the Ayers Scholars Program supports tripled the state’s average growth by demonstrating a 4.5 percentage point increase, compared to the 1.5 percent college-going increase statewide.

Even more impressive, the college-going rate in the seven at-risk and distressed counties the Ayers Scholars Program first began supporting in 2021 through the Governor’s Rural Education Foundation’s previously announced expansion increased by nine percent, or five times the average statewide increase for the Class of 2022.

For updates and more information about the many programs of the Ayers Foundation Trust, please visit