University of Tennessee encourages students to apply for expanded free tuition program

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Dakota Hodges, admissions counselor, speaks to students about the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Hodges was part of a group that included Bernie Savarese, acting vice president for academic affairs with The University of Tennessee System, and UTC Chancellor Steve Angle that visited Bradley Central High School as part of the UT Promise tour Wednesday.

More Tennessee students will be able to attend a University of Tennessee school free of tuition and fees next fall through an expansion of the UT Promise scholarship program.

On Wednesday, representatives from UT visited four high schools in Southeast Tennessee to raise awareness about UT Promise, which guarantees free tuition and fees for qualifying undergraduate students attending a UT campus. Last week, the UT system announced its plans to raise the qualifying household income level to $75,000 a year.

Two-thirds of Tennessee households fall below the increased income threshold, UT President Randy Boyd said in a video call with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

At East Ridge High, Bernie Savarese, the UT system's assistant vice president for student success, walked the juniors and seniors sitting in the gym's bleachers through three questions: Should I go to college? Can I afford to go to college? Where should I go?

"We know in Tennessee and at UT, college is affordable for you," Savarese said. "We believe that we have a UT campus, whether it's big or small, urban or rural, that really suits you and fits your needs."


UT Promise will also increase its stipend to $500 per semester starting next fall. Boyd hopes it will give students whose tuition and fees are fully covered by other scholarships an incentive to stay in the program, he said.

The scholarship pays the remainder of the cost of tuition and mandatory fees after other financial aid, including Pell Grants and the Hope scholarship.

At each of the high school visits, Savarese told students about the UT campuses in Knoxville, Martin, Memphis and Pulaski. UTC Chancellor Steve Angle gave an overview of the programs on the Chattanooga campus.

"Chattanooga really wants to see young people come get an education and stay in our city," he told students at Ooltewah High. "I encourage you to go and visit and see what it's like."

(READ MORE: UTC welcomes thousands of students for the first day of classes)

Students were asked to take a quiz to see which UT campus matched best with their interests. About half of the roughly 20 students gathered in Ooltewah High's library matched with the Knoxville campus.

Students must qualify for the Hope scholarship to be eligible for UT Promise. They also have to complete eight hours of community service and meet with a mentor three times each semester.

The school visits help put the program and others on students' radar, Angle said in an interview. For instance, the UTC student Angle mentors discovered UT Promise through a presentation at his high school.

"He would not have come to UTC, not have come to college without this," Angle said. "Even though my student will be a dropped-out failure from the program, he's going to graduate. We count him in the win column because the program got him into college, really got him set up."

Courtney Brown, a senior at UT, told students at East Ridge High about her experience as one of the first students admitted to the program.

"It's completely changed my life in every way," she said. "It's really nice because it gives you the option to choose if you want to go to college, rather than not being able to make that choice because you couldn't afford it."

Contact Shannon Coan at or 423-757-6396.