The future of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is very bright and the university system will do everything it can to make sure it succeeds, UT President Joe DiPietro said Monday.
"Without a doubt [we will be] far better down the road than we are today," he told community and university leaders during a luncheon on campus.
This year's enrollment at UTC reached a record of almost 11,500 students.
The average high school grade point average for the incoming freshman class went up from 3.31 last year to 3.36 this semester, UTC data shows. ACT scores have increased consistently since 2007, from a 22 to a 22.9 this year.
Among UTC's aspirations is to become one of the top five public master's degree universities in the South, but getting there could take up to 10 years and about $20 million, administrators have said.
UTC ranks 21st among public regional master's universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
"It's a big challenge, but I have no doubt we can get there," said Phil Oldham, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
2007 ... 2011
Source: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
But state Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said the university should make sure it continues to be accessible to students from different backgrounds.
"I don't want us to become so excited about the race to the top that we forget to reach back and ensure that citizens of all income levels will have an opportunity to penetrate this system and become part of it," she said after the luncheon.
A system-wide strategic plan was launched last month that overarches what UTC wants to do in becoming a top five master's institution, DiPietro said Monday during a Times Free Press editorial board meeting.
UT in Knoxville aspires to become a top 25 public research institution, he said. UT currently is No. 46 on the list.
This year's freshman class at UT has the highest average ACT score in the school's history -- 26.7 -- and an average GPA of 3.87, compared to 3.81 last year, he said.
But to become a top 25 institution, the school must improve its graduation rate from about 63 percent to al least 75 percent, DiPietro said.
The ultimate goal for the system, he said in the editorial board meeting, is to become part of the American Association of Universities, but that is a 10 to 15-year journey.
Being accepted to the association would mean UT is one of the finest public universities of America, he said.