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UT has won a prestigious national honor for improving its retention and graduation rates.

At its meeting this morning in Orlando, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities honored UT with its “Most Visible Progress” Trailblazer award. Now in its second year, the award encourages colleges and universities to make retention and graduation a high priority by rewarding and highlighting programs that work.

Left to right, James P. Clements, president of Clemson University and incoming chair of the APLU board; UT Vice Provost Sally McMillan; UT Assistant Provost Ruth Darling; UT Vice Chancellor Chris Cimino; UT Provost Susan Martin; UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek; APLU President Peter McPherson; and APLU Vice President John Lee.

UT was presented with a sculpture and a $20,000 prize to further advance degree completion initiatives. APLU is an organization of 239 public research universities, and state university systems in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“Our member institutions recognize that access—walking in the front door to college— is not the primary goal; it’s getting a complete education, learning to learn and walking back out with a degree in hand ready to contribute to the world,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “UT has significantly advanced its goals to increase retention and degree completion success on its campus, and they’ve done it in their own way. APLU honors their accomplishments and will help share their efforts with other public universities so that these innovative approaches can be modeled and replicated elsewhere in order to reach the collective goals of the Project Degree Completion initiative.”

Accepting the award, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said, “We have worked hard to make the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a better place. It’s an honor to be recognized by our peers for these efforts. It’s an exciting time at UT and we’re proud of this award.”

Watch a video about UT’s progress below.

Among the improvements that UT has reported over the past six years:

  • The four-year graduation has risen 12 percentage points to 43 percent.
  • The six-year graduation rate has risen 9 percentage points to 69 percent.
  • First-year student retention has risen by 3 percentage points to 87 percent.

Several retention and graduation initiatives began ten years ago. Momentum picked up in 2010 when Cheek announced goals for becoming a Top 25 public research university. These goals and UT’s strategic plan have helped cultivate a focus on making improvements to all aspects of the undergraduate experience. The Top 25 goal also focuses on building research, improving graduate education and faculty salaries, and strengthening infrastructure and resources to levels competitive with UT’s aspirational peer universities.

UT changed its tuition model in 2013 to encourage four-year graduation and has invested $10.4 million in the past three years to transform a number of areas:

  • Adding advisers and tutors and improving service delivery
  • Adding instructors and sections for high-demand courses to eliminate bottlenecks, key obstacles to graduating on time
  • Expanding existing freshman seminar classes, learning communities, and first-year transition programs
  • Improving and adding experiential learning and service opportunities to attract and retain high-ability students through undergraduate research opportunities, more honors programs, study abroad programs, and service-learning and leadership opportunities
  • Harnessing technology to better understand the undergraduate profile and make data-driven decisions on how best to use resources
  • Combining the core services of the registrar, bursar, and financial aid offices in person, online, and on the phone through One Stop Express Student Services

Read more about the Trailblazer award and UT efforts in Tennessee Today.

C O N T A C T:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,