The almost complete West Campus Housing loams over its future courtyard. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steve Angle delivered his annual state of the university address on the parking garage of the new West Campus Housing on September 15, 2017.

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Bridges beyond the classroomUTC grows with the city

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga continues to show gains in enrollment and graduation rates, but Chancellor Steven Angle challenged university leaders Friday also to do more to engage students in the community and promote active learning beyond the classroom.

In fact, Angle said "all of our success indicators are on the upswing" because UTC is doing more to encourage internships, volunteer activities, foreign studies and other collaborative programs outside of traditional classes on campus.

"For a UTC student, the most significant impact is graduating with a portfolio of work that shares real world experiences, highlights hands-on preparation for a career, and shows they are prepared to be a productive member of society," Angle said Friday during his annual State of the University address on UTC's 131st birthday. "Our goal is that all undergraduates will complete an internship service project, research project, senior capstone, honors thesis, or international experience."

Angle said university leaders at a recent retreat rallied behind a new slogan for the UTC difference suggested by Vice Chancellor George Heddleston — "Bridges Beyond the Classroom."

The bridges he referred to are both literal and figurative. "Bridges that connect UTC to our community, and the literal bridges that connect our community across the Tennessee River," Angle said.

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Enrollment rebound

UTC’s enrollment grew by more than a third in the first decade of the 21st century but has leveled off the past five years. This fall, overall enrollment was up by nearly a half percent from last year, but still 0.8 percent below the peak reached in 2013.

2017 - 11,586

2016 - 11,533

2015 - 11,388

2014 - 11,670

2013 - 11,674

2012 - 11,614

2011 - 11,394

2010 - 10,726

2009 - 10,526

2008 - 9,807

2007 - 9,558

2002 - 8,524

Source: THEC

He delivered his address at UTC's new $70 million dorm taking shape at Vine and Houston streets. The 600-room dorm, which will also include a new 600-space parking lot, bookstore and coffee shop, will open next fall as part of UTC's attempt to house a bigger share of its 11,586 students on or near campus in downtown Chattanooga.

The dorm is part of nearly $1 billion of construction projects planned or underway in and around downtown Chattanooga, which is projected to nearly double the number of central city residents over a five-year period.

Part of that growth seems to be coming from UTC, which increased its enrollment this fall for the second consecutive year after three years of declining enrollment on the Chattanooga campus.

This year's enrollment was aided by the smallest increase in tuition in 30 years, Angle said.

"UTC and its students have been increasingly engaged in our downtown and having that part of the message of UTC is only going to make that stronger," said Kim White, a UTC graduate who is president of River City Co., which promotes the growth of downtown.

Angle, who took over leadership at UTC in 2013, has emphasized connecting UTC with the community through a host of interchanges. The Chattanooga campus is in the downtown Innovation District, a 140-acre district where the city is targeting the growth of startup and technology-oriented businesses.

"We have looked to our community and the environment in Chattanooga that encourages entrepreneurs to take the leap of faith to start a new business," Angle said. "Entrepreneurs are willing to fail, to learn from what did not work, to apply the lessons learned and to try again. An entrepreneurial approach to student success is having more than the right answer on the test; it is an appreciation of the personal growth that comes from engaging, inquiring and applying shared knowledge."

A majority of students who enroll at UTC as freshmen do not graduate from the school within six years, but the share of those who do is growing and now more than 60 percent of those who start at the school ultimately get their degree at some college.

Over the past four years, Angle said, the share of undergraduate UTC students who start and graduate within six years has grown from just over 33 percent to more than 44 percent. The UTC chancellor said engaging students in campus life and the community should improve retention rates.

"Retention of freshman students to return to a four-year university in their sophomore year was 85 percent for freshmen arriving in the fall of 2016," Angle said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has sought to boost college enrollment through both the Tennessee Promise and Reconnect Tennessee initiatives, said the next big challenge for the state is to get more college students to graduate.

"We're making progress and we're on the path to getting to 55 percent (of the adult population with an advanced certification or college degree)," Haslam said during a recent appearance at the Chattanooga Rotary Club. "But we'll get there a lot quicker if we increase our completion rate. We have too many students who start college and then drop out."

A study given to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission last fall showed that less than 45 percent of students in Tennessee's two- and four-year colleges complete their degrees within six years. Tennessee ranked 38th in the nation in public university graduation rates and 40th in community college graduates rates.

Haslam said he is working to identify ways to help those with financial and health interruptions while they are in college to be able to find ways to complete their education and earn degrees.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.