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Wayne Davis
Interim Chancellor Wayne T. Davis

Thousands of new freshmen arrived on our campus last week, the largest and perhaps most impressive class in recent memory. These new Volunteers are part of a vibrant student body of nearly 29,000.

Over the next four years, they will rent apartments in Knoxville neighborhoods and eat at local restaurants. Their parents will visit and stay in nearby hotels. They will attend concerts, movies, and festivals.

They will spend their money to live here and to attend the state’s flagship university.

And we will spend money to educate them.

This flow of funds—from our students into the community and from the university to our employees, subcontractors, and area businesses—generates $1.7 billion in economic activity every year, according to a new report by UT’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research.

To support our students, we spent $575 million in salaries and benefits for more than 10,000 faculty and staff in 2017. We spent another $636 million on goods and services, including construction, utilities, office supplies, and laboratory equipment.

When we buy these things from local and state businesses, those purchases support jobs. Likewise, when our employees spend their salaries here—buying houses, purchasing cars, paying for child care and gas and groceries—they are also stimulating the economy.

Spending by the university ultimately supports 35,232 jobs across Tennessee. It also generates $166 million in state and local tax revenue.

Considering that the state provided $211 million of our campus budget in 2017, our $1.7 billion economic impact is an impressive return on investment.

The 5,180 freshmen who arrived on campus last week are remarkable. They include an Alabama state record-holder in track and field, a nationally recognized trombone player, and a pre-med student who was born in a refugee camp.

In all, more than 85 percent of our students are Tennesseans, and they come to Knoxville with ambition, compassion, and an eagerness to learn as much as they can.

And we are here to teach them. It’s our mission.

US Census Bureau data shows that people with four-year degrees earn 70 percent more than those with high school diplomas. That’s a tangible payoff for the time and money our students spend on their education—for both them and our state economy.

But their diploma comes with more than an increased earning potential and a set of skills for their chosen field. An education from the state’s top public university means developing the ability to learn, to think critically about the world, to analyze problems and identify solutions.

That big number? The $1.7 billion? It captures only a fraction of what Tennessee’s flagship university contributes to our state. The true measure of our value is what our graduates do with their education.

When they leave this campus, they launch businesses, inform public policy, create meaningful art, and come up with new inventions and technologies. They join the workforce or the military. They become leaders and entrepreneurs. They teach the next generation of Tennesseans.

And that is the real impact of our university.​