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KNOXVILLE — More freshmen at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are returning for their sophomore year: The retention rate has increased almost three percentage points to 86.2 percent, up from 83.6 percent last year.

“An improved retention rate leads to an improved graduation rate,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “We work hard to recruit the finest students from Tennessee and around the country to UT Knoxville. Once they’re here, we do all we can to help them progress at a steady rate and graduate on time.”

In January, Gov. Phil Bredesen challenged UT Knoxville to become a Top 25 public research university. Increasing freshman-to-sophomore retention is a component of UT’s Top 25 priority of improving undergraduate education.

Freshman-to-sophomore retention, tracked by UT’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, is a key metric used by many groups, including the U.S. News & World Report rating system, to judge a university’s successfulness.

Among the efforts UT has implemented to help improve the retention rate are the Light the Torch initiative, which includes pre-orientation and summer orientation, Welcome Week activities and First-Year Studies 129 courses. Improving retention is also a major goal of the Student Success Center, which provides academic support and supplemental instruction, coordinates First-Year Studies 101 and oversees UT LEAD, a program that provides special support for students who have received the Pledge and Promise scholarships. Also, UT has created the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center to help faculty members in communication strategies and best practices in the classroom.

The Top 25 focus group on undergraduate education has been charged with recommending additional high-impact initiatives that will address problems, including the lack of retention. The group is looking at ways to ease the bottlenecks that prevent students from staying on course, improve academic advising and more fully integrate undergraduate research into the curriculum. About $1.6 million from tuition revenue is being used to employ additional academic advisers and a sufficient number of instructors to teach high-demand courses.

Most of UT’s retention programs so far have focused on at-risk students. But statistics show that UT’s increasing population of high-performing students is also at risk for dropping out of school. Consequently, UT has embarked on a concentrated effort to keep these students engaged and enrolled. Tactics include expanding tutor services, providing increased summer school offerings and creating new learning communities.


Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034,