Volunteer Bridge Program Sees Record Enrollment

Now in its sixth year, UT’s Volunteer Bridge program has its largest class ever.

This fall, 175 invited students began the program, which allows them to spend a year and a summer studying at Pellissippi State Community College and then, upon successful completion of program requirements, transfer seamlessly to UT.

The Volunteer Bridge program started in 2011 as one of UT’s many efforts to enhance cooperation between colleges and universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents system and the UT System.

Volunteer Bridge students can take advantage of the state’s HOPE Scholarship at Pellissippi and at UT, although benefits don’t cover summer enrollment.

Now, with the availability of the state’s Tennessee Promise, Volunteer Bridge provides a way for prospective UT students to use that scholarship for the Pellissippi portion of their studies. The Tennessee Promise offers last-dollar scholarships for students to attend any of the state’s thirteen community colleges, twenty-seven colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institutions.

During its first three years, Volunteer Bridge enrolled between forty-eight and seventy-four students a year. In 2014–15, 167 students participated. Last year, 122 students participated.

Students don’t apply for the Volunteer Bridge program; they are invited. The program is designed for students who would benefit from the combined academic support and opportunities of UT and Pellissippi.

“Many of our students want to be at UT,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First Year Studies at UT. “By participating in the Volunteer Bridge program, they are able to complete classes at Pellissippi that give them a solid foundation, preparing them for the rigors of coursework they’ll encounter when they transfer to UT.”

Many Bridge students are part of the Volunteer Bridge Living and Learning Community in UT’s Clement Hall. They have both UT and Pellissippi student IDs and can access most facilities and activities on both campuses.

The Volunteer Bridge program has helped UT become more accessible. In recent years, UT Admissions has been able to talk to high school counselors and students and recruit some students directly into Volunteer Bridge.

“Admissions has actively recruited students earlier in the process,” Mastrogiovanni said. “Word of mouth is strong with the program.”

Guided by advisors on both campuses, Volunteer Bridge students must complete 30 transferable credit hours and have an overall GPA of at least 2.5 during their first year of study at Pellissippi. If they meet these requirements, they are guaranteed admission; if they don’t meet the program’s requirements, they can be holistically evaluated for possible transfer admission to UT.

Over the years, UT and Pellissippi officials have improved aspects of the program.

Volunteer Bridge students are no longer required to live on the UT campus; they can commute if they live with a parent or legal guardian within fifty miles of campus. Students can opt to start during the summer or the fall. Bus service is now provided between Pellissippi’s Hardin Valley campus and UT. A student-led Bridge Advisory Council has been created and a Bridge Mentor Program is in place.

To date, 68 percent of Volunteer Bridge students have successfully completed the program and transferred to UT. Fifty-two Bridge students have graduated with a four-year degree from UT.

Volunteer Bridge students are also eligible—after transferring to UT and continuing their studies—to receive their associate’s degree through reverse transfer, provided they completed after least 15 credit hours at Pellissippi. To date, 36 percent of Bridge students have taken advantage of this opportunity.

See the Volunteer Bridge website for more information about the program.

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)