Chancellor envisions metropolitan partnership between UTC, Chattanooga

Chancellor envisions metropolitan partnership between UTC, Chattanooga

March 3rd, 2014 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

Dr. Steve Angle, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, speaks to a group of students from Lead Academy in Nashville who came to UTC to tour the campus. March 1 is the anniversary of his hiring as chancellor.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

On the morning of March 1, 2013, Steve Angle boarded a plane in Dayton, Ohio, flew to Chattanooga and stepped on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus for just the second time.

He found himself rubbing shoulders with local brass and answering questions about the future of a university he was not yet intimately familiar with.

Angle was on campus to accept a nomination from UT's board of trustees to become the next UTC chancellor, and before the sun set he flew back to Dayton.

"What a day. For us, for our family," Angle said at the time.

The past 12 months have been nearly as full for UTC's new leader. Before officially starting in July, Angle hired an athletic director and a provost. In the time since, he has become acquainted with the intricacies of his duty.

Angle now knows firsthand the potential of the UTC campus and the issues facing it in the evolving higher education landscape. He will give his State of the University address Wednesday. In advance of that, he sat down with the Times Free Press and discussed the status of UTC and his vision for its future.

Though online, technical and two-year schools are increasing the options for degree-seeking Tennesseans, the new UTC chancellor is not proposing that UTC radically evolve. Instead, he is directing the university to utilize what he considers one of its greatest resources: the city of Chattanooga and the Southeast Tennessee region.

It's the genuine hospitality of Tennesseans that has impressed him the most about his time in the South so far, Angle says. But for more reasons than that, he wants to cultivate a rich relationship between UTC and the community.

Angle calls UTC "an engaged metropolitan university." It's a definition found in the school's mission statement and one that establishes a mutually beneficial purpose for the university within greater Chattanooga.

"UTC can't succeed if Chattanooga, our region and Tennessee don't grow and prosper also," Angle said.

Angle wants the UTC campus to bring the mindset of a land-grant institution to an urban setting. But rather than preparing students for agriculture-related fields, he envisions UTC as a problem-solving hub that provides resources and produces employees for local businesses.

"Part of that land-grant mentality is being an unselfish partner and bringing in whoever needs to be at the table to meet the needs of our community," Angle said. "Whether it's dealing with environmental issues and sustainability or preparedness, business training and opportunities, whatever it is to be unselfish and invite our partners in."

Local officials appreciate that mindset. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke called it "imperative" for UTC graduates to be ready for a diversifying workforce.

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr added that local businesses need to capitalize on UTC's growth -- enrollment is nearly 12,000 now, up from 9,557 in the fall of 2007.

Harr has seen an evolution of development criteria during his years in business. In the past, when developers considered investing in a city, they would inquire first about things like railroads, electric power and property. Now, Harr said, the focus is more on the people.

"Today the first thing they ask about is your workforce," Harr said. "It is more important than it's ever been for a community to have an available and educated workforce for a company to come here and set up shop."

It's a reality that aligns well with the community-engaged institution that Angle desires at UTC.

"It's very wise," Harr said of Angle's vision. "I think Steve has demonstrated that it's way up on his list. I've had a number of meetings in the last couple of months with deans and senior officials from the university. I think the concept of the business community working closely with the academic institution here is important, and it's already underway. I feel good about that."


Reaching for academic improvement while embracing its urban location and attainability for students in the region is a balancing act for UTC. With state funding for higher education now awarded through an outcomes-based formula, the pressure is on to retain students and increase graduation rates.

The six-year graduation rate for UTC's freshman class of 2007 was 37 percent, compared to 60 percent at UT-Knoxville.

But making improvements without raising entrance standards above a level that accommodates students in the region is a delicate operation.

Angle said he expects UTC to benefit $1 million on the positive side with the outcome-based model this year, but the blueprint for retaining and graduating more students is simple at UTC.

"Focus on the students," Angle said.

It's something he thinks UTC does well, with its enrollment small enough to remain in touch with the university's roots as a small private college but large enough to be "a good critical mass."

"We're big enough to have a lot of things going on, but small enough that our students don't get lost in a sea of too many students," Angle said.

He said 15,000 students is a reasonable objective for the university, though it already cannot house all the students who want to live on campus.

Seventy-nine percent of freshmen live in university housing this year. But 69 percent of undergraduates as a whole live off campus, meaning that after their freshman year, students generally move off campus whether they want to or not.

UTC will likely never be able to accommodate every sophomore desiring on-campus digs, Angle said. But plans are in the works for another 400-bed residence hall.

Another area in which he believes the future of the city and the school align is in housing for upperclassmen. Angle acknowledged that affordable, close-by options are rare for UTC students, forcing some to Red Bank or other areas that require longer commutes.

"I think as private developers build housing, the competition to keep rents down will be healthy," Angle said. "We're going to hold the line as much as we can. The cost of attendance is a really big deal for our students."


At community colleges in Tennessee, the cost of attendance may soon be free under Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed "Tennessee Promise" that would provide last-dollar scholarships for high school students in the state.

It's an option Angle praised as "wonderful," while maintaining that UTC, and four-year schools in general, still have a unique role to play in helping the state reach its goal of having 55 percent of Tennesseans attain some sort of higher education by 2025.

"We're certainly all on the same team," Angle said. "Our role in that as a four-year institution is looking at that four-year experience that students have."

For UTC that means providing students with opportunities for students to plug in through a gamut of extracurricular activities, which Angle believes define the college experience almost as much as what happens in the classroom.

"We won't meet the goals of the Drive to 55 without having many options," he said. "Online programs and degrees, some of these for profit but very flexible programs, for some students, they choose that as an option. I think with a public institution, what you get is the commitment to give back to your community, this passion to be involved and add value to our communities."

It's a community Angle is passionate about despite his newcomer status. Southern hospitality has been more than a cliche to him during his first year at UTC.

"I've had so many people say, 'I'm so glad you're here,' like I'm doing them a favor," he said. "That's pretty nice. It also sets some standards, and I better live up to that."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.