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College students from nine neighboring states will pay a discounted tuition rate at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this fall, thanks to the university's new regional tuition program.

Instead of paying about $26,000 a year as out-of-state students — compared to about $10,000 for full-time undergraduates who live in Tennessee — students from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas would instead pay in-state tuition "plus $8,000," or about $18,000 a year, under the new program.

The goal is to attract diverse talent and keep it in Chattanooga after students graduate, as well as to reach the university's enrollment goals laid out for the University of Tennessee system, UTC officials said.

"We really have paid attention to Tennessee residents and how we serve the state of Tennessee well," said UTC Chancellor Steve Angle. "This kind of is rounding out our student body and bringing in additional young people to this community that can add to the economy and hopefully drive the future of the region. We are trying to set UTC up to be a net importer of talent in the community."

About 10% of the 11,651 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at UTC last fall were out-of-state students, according to university data — up from 7.9% a decade ago in the fall of 2010.

The majority of out-of-state students are already coming from Georgia, followed by Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina. UTC has offered a regional tuition discount to students who are residents of neighboring Catoosa, Dade, Fannin, Murray, Walker, and Whitfield counties in Georgia and Jackson County in Alabama since 2007.

States Eligible for UTC’s Regional Tuition Program

— Alabama

— Arkansas

— Georgia

— Kentucky

— Mississippi

— Missouri

— North Carolina

— South Carolina

— Virginia

That program would remain in effect, with the full regional program rolling out at a different price point for the entirety of the nine states.

Angle and his Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Yancy Freeman hope the program will convince students who might live just a few hours away in Atlanta, Huntsville or Louisville to choose to move to the region.

Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said UTC's approach reflects a new way of thinking in higher education.

"This absolutely reflects a shift in thinking commensurate with the future in thinking in higher education," Krause told the Times Free Press. "This is the right thing to do for Tennessee. We know a student is likely to stay in the city where they went to college."

In recent years, the state of Tennessee has pushed to increase the number of Tennesseans who are attending and earning a degree or credential from a post-secondary institution.In 2013, former Gov. Bill Haslam set a goal of getting 55% of Tennesseans to have at least a two-year degree or technical certificate by 2025.

Since then, the state launched the Tennessee Promise program, which helps Tennessee residents pay for two years at a community college, and Tennessee Reconnect, for older adults who are returning to school.

Since interim UT President Randy Boyd was appointed to lead the state's flagship public university system, he also launched the UT Promise program, which guarantees free tuition for students who come from families with a household income below $50,000 a year.

But there are benefits for students who start their college careers at a four-year institution, and all students benefit when there is a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds on campus, Angle said.

"The world our students are going to work in is a world. It's not necessarily one county or one neighborhood. Some students come out of high school with a very narrow set of experiences, so I think having a broader base of students can help us," Angle said. "You learn about the world from them, too. That's part of that experience. And these students in this neighboring state program will pay a premium that will allow us to ensure that we're able to provide their education experience and not [pay for it] out of the funding that would have gone for Tennessee residents."

Both he and Freeman noted that college recruitment is competitive in the region, and Tennessee alone offers a wide range of campus experiences from small, religious-affiliated schools to UT Knoxville's large flagship campus and SEC presence.

Freeman said opening up recruitment also will help UTC target specific populations of students, such as those interested in areas of study where UTC has capacity to grow, including music and sciences such as physics.

The number of students attending UTC from the initial neighboring counties program increased over the last decade, Freeman said.

"We've seen some excellent dividends from that program, almost quadrupling the number of students coming from these counties than previously who were coming to us," he said. "It has helped us really turn over a lot of students who may have had to go further into Georgia and to [instead] come to UTC because it [is] really the closest four-year institution to them."

Part of the university's recruitment strategy is marketing Chattanooga and what the city itself has to offer. Freeman said he hopes students from other states will build relationships over their four years at UTC and that there will be jobs waiting for them when they graduate.

UTC is an active partner and collaborator with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Chattanooga 2.0 and local businesses and organizations as it seeks to help meet workforce demands in Chattanooga.

"We know Chattanooga will continue to be a magnet for skilled, diverse talent, and UTC's strategies to increase our national visibility play a critical role," said Molly Blankenship, vice president of talent initiatives for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Chattanooga 2.0.

Krause attributes the innovative program to Angle's leadership and the university's overall transformation over the past 10 years.

"I think a lot of this is about UTC's profile. It's about a university that has seen a transformative last decade and [is] an institution that is a recognized leader in innovation across the state," Krause said.

Other colleges, the University of Memphis and Austin Peay State University as well as UT-Martin, also have regional tuition programs or partnerships with neighboring counties or states.

The discount is contingent on students enrolling for the fall of 2020. As of January, more than 600 students who would be eligible for the discount program had applied to UTC and about 380 had been admitted.

With the goal of increasing enrollment by at least 13,500 students by 2025, Angle said applicants should not be concerned about more competitive admissions or Tennessee residents being skipped over in favor of out-of-state students.

"Certainly we are not changing our policy for how we admit students from the state of Tennessee. We will not be turning people away," he added.

University officials are still working on whether students already attending UTC will see tuition changes under the new program.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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