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KNOXVILLE — First-year students at the University of Tennessee are expected to top 4,000 this fall, and they will be the best prepared in the school’s history, officials said Tuesday.

Driven in part by the Tennessee Hope Scholarship program, UT-Knoxville’s freshman enrollment could hit 4,500 students, Chancellor Loren Crabtree said. Most of the in-state students will bring with them a lottery scholarship, he said.

The average ACT entrance test score of those who have confirmed their fall semester admission is 24.7, compared to 24.3 for the fall 2003 freshman class.

“Certainly the lottery scholarship program is responsible for the record number of applications and the corresponding admission of more students,” Crabtree said. “Lottery scholarships make it easier for Tennessee residents to attend college.

“I believe in our case there is an increasing awareness by students and their parents of the advantages offered by a comprehensive, public university like ours. We offer more degree programs and student life activities than any other institution in the state.”

UT officials were projecting a first-year class of between 4,000 and 4,100, but the percentage of those admitted and deciding to enroll is higher this year.

A total of 4,579 have confirmed their attendance, but Richard Bayer, dean of enrollment services, said based on past trends about 6 percent will not enroll in August. That would yield a freshman class of about 4,300 — up more than 700 from last fall’s first-year class, Bayer said.

“We may have a few more students than planned, but we can accommodate them,” Crabtree said. “Since our freshman classes have been smaller over the last few years, we have the capacity to increase overall enrollment.”

Deadline to confirm enrollment was May 1, and no exceptions are being made this year. Also, nearly 600 students who were on a waiting list will not be granted admission.

“In the past, we were able to accept students who were admitted but not confirmed or who were on the waiting list,” Bayer said. “This year we’re full, both for classes and residence hall space.”

Crabtree said extra classes are being added in courses first-year students need, such as English, math, biology, foreign languages and history.

“We will make sure students can get the classes they need without increasing class size,” Crabtree said. “We are investing a significant amount of money to hire instructors to accomplish this.”

Jim Grubb, director of university housing, said residence halls will be full, but he expects most students can be accommodated. To meet the demand, Strong and Melrose halls, originally scheduled to close, will remain open this fall.

First-year students from outside the Knoxville area are required to live on campus, Grubb said. That’s approximately 90 percent of the freshman class. The other 10 percent are commuter students living within a 50-mile radius of the campus.

“We have approximately 3,800 spaces, and I believe when we work completely through the process, we can accommodate the first-year students who have applied for on-campus housing.”

An Enrollment Management Committee, chaired by Academic Affairs Vice Chancellor Anne Mayhew, met throughout the academic year to plan for the anticipated increase in first-year students.

Crabtree said new recruiting strategies and changes in how academic scholarships are awarded helped attract more top students to Knoxville.