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Chancellor Jimmy G. CheekChancellor Jimmy G. Cheek is at the White House today for a summit about increasing college access for low-income students. Three new UT programs will be announced.

Cheek is meeting with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, other college and university leaders, and leaders from nonprofits, foundations, state governments, and businesses across the country.

Watch the meeting live at

“It’s an honor to be part of the national discussion on such an important topic,” Cheek said. “Being invited to participate in this event means our efforts to increase opportunities for academically qualified low-income students have been noticed, and we have much to contribute to the dialogue.”

In preparation for today’s all-day meeting, participating universities were asked to commit to plans for expanding college opportunity. UT plans to implement three programs aimed at recruiting academically qualified low-income students and helping ensure their success once they arrive:

  • A coaching program for students who face barriers to their success at the university. A retention index will be used to understand potential risk factors that can prevent students from successfully completing their degree. The university will hire professional coaches to help students transition to university life and develop academic and nonacademic success strategies. A pilot program is already under way.
  • A summer math camp for incoming freshmen. The camp will target students who are interested in math-intensive majors but do not have strong ACT math scores. The camp will help students develop the needed math skills or identify majors that interest them but have less focus on math. The camp will launch this summer.
  • Expansion of transfer programs with community colleges. Offering support from both UT and the community colleges, these programs set clear benchmarks for successful transfer to UT. The university will invest in professional staff, including an admissions counselor who already has been hired to work with community colleges, and will develop support materials to enhance recruitment, transition, and retention.

Cheek said these ideas grew out of the Top 25 effort to improve undergraduate education. The cost of implementing these programs is still being worked out.

“We may be limited to some degree by resources, but we can start small and build the programs as we go,” he said.

Cheek was invited to participate in the summit after he and several other university leaders met with Sperling during the annual conference of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in November.

About one-third of UT’s students qualify for federal Pell grants. That number is higher than those at most of the university’s peer institutions.

UT already has a variety of programs in place to help make attendance more affordable, to increase access, and to mentor students to success once they arrive.

The university has significantly increased its funding for need-based scholarships during recent years. The Pledge Scholarship and the Promise Scholarship target low-income students as well as first-generation students and students from underrepresented areas. The UT LEAD program provides academic support for selected students who have been awarded one of these two scholarships.

Through the UT-Pellissippi Bridge Program, selected students can complete a year of studies at Pellissippi Community College and then transfer to UT as a sophomore.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,