Institution - Applications 2011/2010 - Accepted 2011/2010
• University of the South - 2,915/2,718 - 1,735/1,669
• University of Tennessee - 13,760/12,547 - 9,559/9,352
• Bryan College - 972/995 - 275-300/280
• University of Georgia - 17,829/17,475 - 11,183/10,329
• Lee University - not available - 853/832
• Dalton State College - 2,787/2,616 - 502/562
• UTC - 9,000/6,661 - 2,200/1,948
• Numbers likely to change by fall because of rolling admissions
Applications for the fall semester are up 35 percent over last year at UTC and climbing at most other area colleges and universities.
The University of the South and Dalton State College joined the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with more applications and admissions for the fall than they had a year ago, as did the flagship campuses of the University of Tennessee and University of Georgia.
But UTC had the biggest jump by far, with an estimated 9,000 applications compared with nearly 6,700 a year ago.
"The renaissance with this community and our relationship with Chattanooga has been a great selling point," said Chuck Cantrell, UTC assistant vice chancellor for enrollment. "And as your enrollment grows, more people know about you."
The increase at UTC comes as the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees community colleges in the state, considers tuition increases as high as 9.5 percent. No final decision has been made.
Even with higher costs on the horizon, the figures suggest that high school grads are choosing to get their bachelor's degrees rather than enter a poor job market with less education.
"There are not really good jobs for people without some college education, and then you factor in the bad economy," said Scott Jaschik, editor of university news website Inside Higher Education. "When the economy gets better, I don't expect it to change because we're not seeing any signs of a restoration of the kind of economy you had a generation ago."
Take, for example, Chattanooga's new Volkswagen plant. Its technologically intensive manufacturing jobs require some postsecondary training, whereas a generation ago such jobs were more manual-labor intensive.
"What they're looking for these days, it's not just a matter of muscle," Jaschik said. "These are different kinds of jobs today, and so a plant like that is going to look for people with higher education."
The rise in applications puts most if not all colleges and universities in the tri-state area at near-record levels. That trend is the same across the country, with steady increases in freshman class sizes.
The University of Tennessee, Bryan College, the University of Georgia, UTC, Lee University and Sewanee all expect or have confirmed a larger freshman class this fall than last.
Officials at Sewanee say they have hit on a strategy that makes the university an attractive student option now and positions it well for the future.
Applications were up 5.5 percent this year at Sewanee, and that was before tuition was sliced 10 percent. Now increased interest is evident, officials said.
"Our campus visits increased with the announcement, so people learning about us who had not heard of us before, they thought, 'Hmm, let's check them out,'" said Lisa Burns, associate dean of admissions. "We're just hoping families see us and see what our cost is and consider us a good choice."
Sewanee's tuition, room and board total $41,518 this year, compared with last year's $46,112 - a 9 percent decrease when living costs are factored in.
That tuition-cutting philosophy is the future of higher education, Burns said.
"We're going to be a leader and start this change," she said. "There were many different reasons. I think one of them was to give more students a chance to come here. Some of it was to stop the craziness of colleges raising tuition 5, 8, 10 percent."
But even with tuition cuts and financial aid, schools such as Sewanee can be out of reach financially for some would-be students.
"When people hear talk about college costs, they hear talk about what schools like Vanderbilt cost, but the places that charge what Vanderbilt charges, that's like, 1 percent of schools," Jaschik said. "When you look at what your local community college costs, it's probably not very expensive."
Affordability seems to be a top priority of many local public and private schools.
"We're pretty aggressive in trying to make it possible for students to come here," said Mike Sapienza, vice president for enrollment management at Bryan College.
Tuition, room and board cost about $25,270 a year at Bryan, but Sapienza expects 70 of the 275 to 300 students expected to enroll this year will come in through the college's low-income program. Students who make a 24 or better on the ACT get a full ride through a combination of college, state and federal grants and scholarships. That can be a huge help, especially when considering that those who enter the program have an average family income under $20,000 a year.
"People think there aren't people like that out there who are looking for college, but there are," Sapienza said. "They just thought, 'I can't afford anything,' but when we get the message to them that we're going to work with you, that's an advantage."