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KNOXVILLE — A new scholarship program offered by the University of Tennessee will now give the state’s students more opportunities to attend UT.

Approved by the Board of Trustees last summer, the Tennessee Pledge scholarship guarantees qualified students can attend UT for four years without incurring debt. The program offers an aid package of scholarships and other federal, state and institutional assistance to students near the poverty level.

The program is modeled after the University of Virginia’s Access Program and University of North Carolina’s Carolina Covenant Program. Enrollment Services Dean Richard Bayer said only 15 or 20 such scholarship programs exist at other public universities in the U.S. UT is the only university in Tennessee to offer this type of program, he said.

With 189 in-state freshmen receiving the scholarship package this semester, Bayer said, high schools are doing a good job promoting it to their juniors and seniors.

“It’s a relatively new program, and we haven’t had much time to advertise it, but we’re pleased that students are aware of this opportunity to attend UT,” he said.

“Our responsibility as a land grant institution is to ensure that all of Tennessee’s best students can attend the state’s flagship research university,” said Chancellor Loren Crabtree. “Access to UT should be based solely on academic potential and willingness to learn. This program levels the playing field for every bright student and opens our doors in a way that we never have before.”

Since approximately 98 percent of all new UT students qualify for the state’s HOPE scholarship, the Tennessee Pledge covers all other mandatory costs of room, board and other fees, excluding books. The Financial Aid Office will arrange work-study opportunities for students who need to cover book costs.

“This program is for the student in Tennessee who cannot afford to live away from home and attend the state’s flagship land grant institution,” Bayer said. “Now, the student from Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities or any other Tennessee locale can reside on campus here in Knoxville and essentially get a debt-free education.”

Bayer said that some families are reluctant to go into debt to finance their children’s college educations, so sometimes the students never get to further their educations after high school.

Inez Boyd, a guidance coordinator from Memphis Central High School, said getting into college can make a difference in the lives of her students.

“Statistics show that high school dropouts make less money over a lifetime than people who get their diplomas and go on to college to get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” Boyd said. “It’s a recognized fact that is well-known by kids who are paying attention. But oftentimes, they don’t know everything that’s available, so we help them see that if they study hard and make good grades, they can go to college.”

Scott Plyler, English instructor and guidance counseling trainee from Johnson County High School in northeast Tennessee, said when he explained the Tennessee Pledge scholarship to his students, the reaction was immediate.

“Their heads popped up and they said, ‘Are you serious?’ Then they asked questions like, ‘Where do we get applications? When are they due?’ The reaction’s been incredible, very positive.”

Jeff Gerkin, UT’s assistant dean and director of financial aid, said the solely need-based program is unique. All other UT scholarships funded by state or private dollars consider merit or a combination of merit and need in making awards.

The student has to academically qualify for entrance to the university, and must be admitted to UT by February 1 prior to enrollment.

“The Tennessee Pledge is our promise that we will make it possible for students to get through their four- or five-year programs without borrowing any money or incurring any debt,” said Gerkin. “That is a very powerful promise to make and one of which we’re very proud.”

Admissions staff began promoting Tennessee Pledge to potential students last September. Undergraduate admissions counselor Shauna Ales said they’ve already gotten good responses from potential students.

“A lot of times, I’ll be talking to high school students about UT, and I can feel that they’re holding back, feeling like perhaps college isn’t for them, that they can’t afford it,” Ales said. “Then their eyes light up when I explain the Tennessee Pledge. Suddenly they realize that higher education is attainable.”

For more information, please visit http://admissions.utk.edu/undergraduate

Contact: Richard Bayer (865-974-2105)
Karen Collins (865-974-5186 or 865-216-6862)