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The COVID-19 pandemic challenged students and institutions to approach learning and academic progress in a different way than ever before.

In a recent Inside Higher Ed two-part article, Chancellor Donde Plowman and Vice Provost for Student Success Amber Williams highlighted the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s efforts in redefining student success during the 2020–21 academic year and retention for students returning to campus this fall.

“I heard repeatedly, ‘I’ve had to work so much harder,’” said Plowman. “I tried to get to the bottom of what that meant.” No one wants to assume students know what it means to be successful in college, Plowman added.

A survey of 2,000 college students from 108 institutions, conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse from May 24 to 27 and presented by Kaplan, prompted the article on the approaches to student success colleges used during the COVID-19 pandemic and the support students will need to succeed in the coming fall.

Two of the university’s efforts in those areas were featured under the discussion of student support. In 2020, the Division of Student Success launched Vol Success Teams, an effort to enhance and support students’ first-year experience during their transition to UT by pairing each student with an academic advisor, an academic coach, and a One Stop student services counselor. For the upcoming fall, the division will offer Vols Start Back, an initiative to reorient continuing Volunteers to in-person campus life.

“In some ways, we’re orientating three first-year classes: those coming from high school, sophomores who spent freshman year in a predominantly virtual environment, and juniors who had only one semester fully in person. We’re approaching this as if all of them are first-year students,” Williams said.

“Some of it involves academic support services and meeting with a coach. Some of it is leadership development and participating in career development activities, and there’s an inclusion and diversity bucket, too, with a menu of activities. To get them on the right foot to finish off their college careers, we need those areas to connect with one another.”


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,

Lacey Wood (865-974-8386,