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Even as the University of Tennessee system operates with fewer state dollars, officials said they plan to embark on the system's most ambitious plan to improve graduation rates.

UT schools will be expected to increase graduation rates by 20 percent in the next decade, UT Interim President Jan Simek said Wednesday during a online broadcast to UT faculty and staff.

"There will be a fundamental refocusing on outcomes rather than growth," Dr. Simek said. "The University of Tennessee is strong (on graduation rates), but it can improve."

For its part, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga must show gradual movement toward higher graduation rates, and officials are talking about an increase of 2 percent per year, said Chuck Cantrell, spokesman for the university.

"We have said for quite some time that we are focused on increasing graduation rates," Mr. Cantrell said. "We will just continue to look to see what is reasonable and what is ambitious."

Dr. Simek's address comes on the heels of Gov. Phil Bredesen's State of the State address, in which he said all state agencies can expect further budget cuts because of falling tax revenue.

UTC is planning to trim an additional 6 percent, or $2.8 million, from its budget this fiscal year. Since 2008, the school has lost 13.9 percent of its state appropriations, a total of $8 million.

When federal stimulus funding runs out in 2012, it will be a "slightly deeper slope to find the bottom of," Dr. Simek said. "There will be deeper cuts than anticipated. ... It won't be pleasant, but it will be manageable."

UT PRESIDENT'S DIRECTIVES

* Graduation rates at UT Martin and UTC will increase from about 40 percent to 60 percent.

* UT, which has the highest graduation rate of the state's public four-year institutions, will increase its graduation rate from nearly 60 percent to 80 percent, which is more on par with peer institutions such as the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.

Source: UT system

Still, Dr. Simek told UT faculty and staff that there is a silver lining.

Although no permanent increases are budgeted for university base salaries, there may be a 3 percent salary bonus for employees, according to Gov. Bredesen's budget.

UTC officials cautiously are optimistic.

"It is great that they are focusing on compensation, especially at a time when we are facing budget cuts and other pressing needs," Mr. Cantrell said.

Follow this link to see a video on UT grad rates and cuts.

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