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University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Jimmy Cheek
[UT] has the largest student population we've had in a long period of time.

Enrollment at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is up this year, and school administrators say their focus is fixed on recruiting the "best and brightest" students and being innovative in how they attract first-year and transfer students.

These are topics Chancellor Jimmy Cheek is touting this week as he crisscrosses the state on the school's inaugural admissions bus tour.

"[UT] has the largest student population we've had in a long period of time," Cheek told the Times Free Press during a stop in Hamilton County, which is the fifth largest county supplier of students to the university.

UT enrolled 50 more freshman this year compared to last, boosting the number of incoming freshman to 4,750. This uptick in freshman enrollment comes in the wake of Tennessee Promise, which was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam last year. That program pays for two years of post-secondary education at any of the state's 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or any eligible institution offering an associate's degree program.

Several schools across the state experienced a dip in enrollment this year because of the program, possibly caused by a surge of students choosing to use Tennessee Promise.

However, administrators at UT said this has not been a problem for them, and they are working ahead to prepare for these Tennessee Promise students, who in two years may be looking to transfer to a university.

Provost Susan Martin said the faculty at UT has been working with Pellissippi State, a community college in Knoxville, to guarantee students know what they need to make the transfer.

"The No. 1 difficulty transfer students have is the transfer of credits," Martin said.

Martin said UT has developed a plan for each major showing students exactly what classes they need to take at community college in order to have a seamless transfer into the university.

Cheek also addressed Haslam's plan to privatize building management, operations and services at Tennessee's colleges and universities. The governor's plan would expand a controversial contract struck two years ago on many state office buildings with Jones Lane LaSalle that he said would increase business efficiency and effectiveness.

Cheek worries about the plan and said "anytime we privatize something on our campus we need to make certain it is of economic benefit to us and provides a service we need."

UT now pays about $5 per square foot for janitorial services, and Cheek said the state privatization plan should cost about $3 more.

"I just don't see the economic benefit at this time," Cheek said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at 423-757-6592 or kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com.

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