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Tennessee Temple University students raise their hands as theysing during worship service Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., after TTU announced that it will close and merge with Piedmont International University at the end of the semester.

Students at Tennessee Temple University won't be left without options when the Highland Park campus shuts down in two months.

College officials announced plans this week to merge the college with Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Nearly all of the Highland Park campus now belongs to Redemption Point Church, which plans to renovate college buildings and open a school of ministry.

On Tuesday, Piedmont President Charles Petitt said the North Carolina college of about 600 students would be offering steep discounts to Tennessee Temple students, as well as relatives of Temple's alumni and staff.

"No one will pay more than they pay now," Petitt said. "Most everyone, the vast majority will pay a lot less. But no one will pay more."

While mergers in the corporate world often result in clear winners and losers, Petitt said this merger will be good for both Temple and Piedmont.

"We look at this more like a marriage," he said.

Both Bryan College in Dayton and Shorter College in Rome, Ga., also will offer tuition discounts to Temple students. Piedmont officials were on campus Tuesday to help students sort through their next moves.

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Tennessee Temple merger Q&A

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Tennessee Temple University president Dr. Steve Echjols announces that TTU will close and merge with Piedmont International University during a news conference on Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sitting with him, from left, are Dr. Byron Edens, Dr. Herb Rawlings, Mel Leatherman, Kay Arthur, Nancye Alloway, Dr. Phil Smith, PIU president Dr. Charles Pettit, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, Dr. Carey Brown, Dr. Ternae Jordan, Dr. Gary Jared and Dr. Mike Hand.

Though Temple and Piedmont are more than 300 miles apart, officials said the two colleges have a shared history. The colleges were founded within months of each other and the founders, who were close friends, were said to have had a gentlemen's agreement, pledging that the two schools would come together if either should falter.

"Little could these men have realized how providential that agreement was, that some 70 years later Piedmont and Temple have come together," Tennessee Temple President Steve Echols said Tuesday.

Echols told students that while the merger wasn't what officials had envisioned, it was all God's work.

"The president is not in control here," he said. "The trustees are not in control. God is in control."

Many students were still assessing their options on Tuesday.

Gary Davidson, a freshman from Gadsden, Ala., came to Temple to play college baseball. He feels rooted here, with a girlfriend and friends on campus.

"I had made my life here and expected to be here four years," he said. "And then all of a sudden, this."

Kayla Phillips, a senior with another year of coursework, said she'll be just fine with the campus closure.

"I'm excited about it," she said. "I feel like it's going to be a good change for all of us."

Her grandfather, aunt and uncle attended Temple in the days when thousands walked the campus. Now, there are only 265 on-campus students. She said the school was helping students find new options.

"It's not like they're completely throwing us out there," she said. "They're making sure we're taken care of."

And Phillips said going to an established college like Piedmont, Shorter or Bryan will prove more stable than Temple's earlier plans to relocate to the campus of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Harrison.

Echols said financial constraints made that move impossible, though more than 90 percent of Woodland Park Baptist church members voted in 2014 to approve Temple's move to their campus. Woodland Park leaders didn't respond to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday, but posted a statement on the church website expressing understanding even through disappointment.

"Although this outcome is not what our eyes desired to see," the website said, "we trust and know His ways are far beyond our ways."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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