UTC scrambles to attract students lured away by Tennessee Promise

Students walk to class Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has launched several programs in an attempt to reverse a drop in enrollment tied to Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise scholarship.

Tennessee Promise offers two-year college scholarships to students who meet a forgiving set of minimum requirements, a policy that officials say has shifted college enrollees away from traditional four-year universities and toward two-year community colleges.

In response to a drop in enrollment in 2015, UTC officials moved to partner up with local two-year colleges in an effort to lure students back toward a four-year education.

UTC has established dual admission programs with Chattanooga State Community College, Cleveland State Community College and Motlow State Community College.

"Thinking in terms of the Tennessee Promise, we have specifically looked at ways to strengthen our relationships with local community colleges," said Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor of communication at UTC.

Dual admission students are enrolled at both the community college they are attending, as well as UTC. The move is aimed at allowing students to complete their two-year degree, then "step onto UTC's campus to finish a four-year degree," said Cantrell.

Dual admission students are also allowed to participate in student life activities on both campuses, such as sporting events and concerts, making the transition appear seamless, Cantrell said.

Currently, there are 17 students who have officially enrolled in the dual admissions program. There are also many more students enrolled at Chattanooga State who are pursuing a transfer path, Cantrell said.

"Chattanooga State Community College has been our top feeder for transfer students for many years," he said. For 2015, UTC had a total of 901 transfers from two-year and four-year colleges.

Meanwhile, UTC and Cleveland State have had meetings throughout the summer about an articulation agreement in engineering that would allow students to apply credits earned at one school to a program at another school.

In particular, Cleveland State has implemented several strategies to improve graduation rates and to provide greater levels of assistance to TN Promise students: mandatory academic advising, a required first-year seminar course, tutoring programs, and a new Student Success Center, according to Doyle Hawkins, research technician at CSCC.

At the Student Success Center, mentors will contribute regular feedback and support for students to keep them on a path toward completing their degrees or certificates.

Additionally, over the past school year, UTC tested out a marketing campaign called "Chose UTC," highlighting Chattanooga residents who chose UTC as their higher education home.

The campaign will continue to be used this upcoming school year with "an increased social media focus" and a possible expansion in "high yield recruitment areas across the state, such as Memphis and Nashville," said Cantrell.

These programs started in the same year that new college students were given access to the Tennessee Promise, a scholarship for two-year colleges which covers tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship or state student assistance funds.

While community colleges saw record-breaking enrollment rates, UTC suffered a 16 percent decrease in freshman enrollment, which Cantrell attributed to the Tennessee Promise. However, this year the school is set to rebound by more than 200 students, he said, but "of course, we won't know the final enrollment numbers until after classes have been in session for a few weeks."

UTC has been working closely with its community college partners through both the Tennessee Promise and dual admission programs. UTC academic advisers and counselors offer extensive transfer advising to students at partner campuses. UTC and its partner colleges also communicate on "curriculum development and standards, transfer pathways, admission processes, student services, and marketing," Cantrell said.

"For example, members of the UTC and Chattanooga State marketing teams met earlier this week to discuss a joint marketing campaign."