Volunteers from across the state, nation, and world stepped forward together in support of students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, during the 2021–22 fiscal year. A record number of 60,142 donors committed more than $264 million to enhance educational opportunities and provide the resources students need to succeed. Of those totals, 18,859 donors chose to support athletics programs with commitments of more than $80 million.
The donors’ support helped UT students overcome a national trend of declining retention rates—the measure by which students return to college from one semester to the next. This spring, a full 96 percent of first-year students returned to UT after winter break, the highest first-year retention rate in recent years.
“I am overwhelmed by the thoughtful support of our alumni and friends,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “The historic investments our donors have made this year demonstrate how much they believe in our students, our mission, and the impact we are making across Tennessee and beyond. I am so grateful and proud to call myself a Volunteer and to be part of this generous community.”
Transforming the Volunteer Experience
As UT rebounded from COVID-19 this year and resumed in-person activity, enrollment hit a record of 31,701 with the largest first-year cohort on record and a 23 percent increase in new first-year enrollment over the past five years. New scholarships have supported this transformation in the student experience, as have privately supported areas of campus growth such as the naming of the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations and the Bruce and Nancy Sullivan deanship at the UT Libraries, the creation of the JTV Center for Applied Business Analytics, and much more.
Ander Blowers (’25), a Tummins scholar from Johnson City, Tennessee, who studies biomedical engineering, said, “This scholarship means a lot to me in that it is helping me get through college with as little debt as possible so that I can look toward the future and advanced degrees.”
Simpson scholar Kaiya Moore (’23), a first-generation college student from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was able to study abroad in London because of her scholarship.
“This scholarship helped me afford the opportunity to study abroad and have a great experience in London,” said Moore, who is studying marketing with a concentration in international business. “Since I’ve gotten back, I’ve seen a change in myself and how I view the world, and I’m really thankful for this.”
Donor Passion Drives Historic Results
Fundraising campaigns during the past year were met with the full enthusiasm and passion of donors. The grassroots Alumni Scholarship Challenge held in April resulted in funds for 130 scholarships, with record generosity coming from the Black Alumni Council, the Knoxville and Seattle Alumni Chapters, and others.
Big Orange Give, the university’s annual day of giving, resulted in 9,450 gifts to areas across campus, which far exceeded the campaign’s goal of 8,000 gifts. During the Big Orange Family Campaign, a record 65 percent of university employees supported Rocky Top through donations—the best giving rate for university employees in the Southeastern Conference. Support from donors has even inspired current students to give back, with one in every three seniors contributing to the Senior Impact campaign.
Supporting Access to UT through Scholarships
“These past 12 months have again shown that donors are eager to partner with the university,” said Chip Bryant, vice chancellor for advancement. “They’ve been generous to establish scholarships that change students’ lives by opening new opportunities and possibilities for them.”
One area of scholarship growth this year has been the Tri-Star Scholarship Program, which provides Tennessee residents access to the Volunteer experience through the affiliated UT Promise, Tennessee Pledge, and Flagship Scholarships. For Nick D’Alessandro (’22), an advertising major from the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, support came through the UT Promise Scholarship, which includes an opportunity to be mentored by a UT alumnus.
“Hunter has been really good about giving me advice for classes,” D’Alessandro said of his mentor Hunter McClure (’19), who is now a digital marketing specialist at the Pilot Company and provided guidance through the UT Promise mentorship program.
UT donors continue to shine for their self-sacrificial commitment to the university and its people, with their fervent loyalty, going above and beyond to make Volunteer lives better than before. Bryant summed up this commitment best when he said, “The good will donors demonstrate toward UT students, faculty, and staff is a testament to how Volunteers help one another to succeed.”
UT raises funds through the University of Tennessee Foundation, an independent nonprofit corporation that seeks to enrich the lives of UT students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends through alumni engagement, financial stewardship, and private investments. The Foundation is the preferred channel for all private contributions benefiting faculty and students at the University of Tennessee System.
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