UT Recruiting, Keeping Top Students

KNOXVILLE — Reallocation of funds to provide more classes and opportunities for undergraduate students are paying off for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, its chancellor said Monday.

Dr. Loren W. Crabtree said UT’s six-year graduation rate is 59 percent, which is more than a point above UT’s previous six-year average. The graduation rate for students who enroll at UT and graduate from a state university or college is 14 percent higher than any other four-year institution in the state.

“We can say with pride that our students are doing well, and will do even better as we continue to improve undergraduate education,” Crabtree said.

“For several years, we have sought to keep enrollment around 25,000 students,” Crabtree said. “By doing so, we can focus on helping them have a successful and enjoyable experience here, and help them earn their degrees in the shortest possible time.

“We admit only those students who have demonstrated by their work ethic in high school that they can be successful here. It serves neither the individual nor the institution well to enroll large numbers of students only to see them drop out without graduating.”

The average ACT test scores of students entering UT has consistently been higher, by an average of two points over the last decade, than any public institution in the state, the chancellor said.

The dropout rate from the first to second year continues to fall. Nearly 78 percent of the students who entered in fall 2002 came back this fall, up 2.3 percent from the previous year. The first-year retention rate for African American students was 83.5 percent for the same period.

Crabtree said the HOPE scholarship program, funded by proceeds from the new state lottery, should help UT enroll more of Tennessee’s top students.

“Almost all of the in-state students who enroll here will qualify for a HOPE scholarship,” he said. “With our current merit scholarship dollars and the HOPE awards, we will be able to offer more attractive packages to high achieving students.”

In recent years, UT has held undergraduate enrollment at approximately 19,000 and entering classes to 3,800. Plans are to enroll 4,000 freshmen next fall.

Since more students are taking less time to graduate and transfer enrollment has declined slightly, the campus can accommodate slightly larger freshman classes, Crabtree said. Applications for next fall are up by more than 10 percent, he said.

“A number of factors, ranging from the impact of the lottery scholarships, to population growth in the state, to a slight drop off in transfer enrollment this past year led to the decision to enroll more first-year students. The university also hopes to restore transfer enrollment over the next several years by offering scholarship assistance to top community college students who transfer to UT,” he said.

Two years ago, a committee made up of faculty, deans, academic administrators, academic advisors and admissions personnel was appointed to study enrollment and retention trends and make recommendations to Crabtree.

Dr. Anne Mayhew, vice chancellor for academic affairs, chairs the Enrollment Management Committee, and she said increasing the percentage of students who enter UT and stay to earn their degrees is a priority.

UT is working hard, she said, to dispel the idea that many of its best professors have left and that students cannot get the courses they need to graduate in four years. The four-year graduation rate has improved at UT, reversing the national trend.