Students walking to class via the Pedestrian Walkway.

The University of Tennessee welcomed a record-breaking number of 5,180 freshmen to campus this fall. UT also welcomed 1,320 transfer students with a total of over 6,500 new students starting classes Wednesday, August 23.

“This year’s freshman class is incredible,” Fabrizio D’Aloisio, Assistant Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, said. “[I am] Really excited about the quality and caliber of students that have enrolled here at Rocky Top. We’ve got students from across the 91 counties in the state [of Tennessee] and we’ve got students from across 43 states in the United States.”

Students who enrolled had ACT scores between 25 and 30 and a high school GPA of 3.6 and 4.3. These scores reflected a slight increase in academic preparedness compared to last year’s incoming freshman class, which had an average ACT score of 27 and an average high school GPA of above 3.9.

This year’s freshman class size represents a continuing trend in the growing number of students who enroll at UT. Over the last ten years, enrollment numbers have increased from 4,215 in 2008 to 5,180 freshman in this year”s class, with the percentage of applicants enrolling staying at around 30 percent.

UT’s student expansion comes as an opposition to the decline of college attendance throughout the United States.

An estimated 19.9 million students were projected to attend colleges and universities this Fall, according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). This estimate is a decrease from the peak number of 21 million in 2010 who attended higher education institutions.

“Especially in this day and age when you look at the demographics, both in the state of Tennessee and nationally, the number of students that are going to college is generally declining,” D’Aloisio said. “So, to be able to recruit a better class each year and not to mention in getting a larger class in doing so, speaks extremely strongly to the work of this campus and this university, but also to everything that we have in-store for us moving forward.”

Shelby Ledbetter, a freshman majoring in Aerospace Engineering, said that from looking at the number of students who graduated from her high school and those of them that went on to college, she thinks more people are graduating and looking to gain higher education.

“Compared to my high school, we have a lot more people graduating and going to college, so I guess that means a lot more people are having the initiative to do something more,” Ledbetter said.

One reason for the higher number of incoming freshman is the increasingly strong effort put forth by UT admissions. They reach out to potential students by connecting with high school seniors through emails, mailed letters and in-person tours of the schools.

Jackson Wayne, a freshman majoring in Physics, said he received many emails during the summer and into the new semester, especially from his professors.

Retention rates at UT are also another area that continues to increase annually, which helps to increase growing class sizes. UT predicted that 87 percent of last year’s freshman class and 82 of transfer students from last year will return.

D’Aloisio explained the reason retention rates are increasing is due to increasing investments in student success. These investments started last year as a way to help students early on. The system lets UT faculty assess students during the course of the year and reach out to professors to help identify students who are struggling. From there, the Student Success Center can reach out to those students to give them some extra help.

“We’re growing, and we’re growing in a really smart way. So, as we think about the class we just enrolled, that was a little bit larger than we had planned on, but it was intentional,” D’Aloisio said.

It was intentional to help keep UT growing. The application process for next year’s freshman class opened on August 2, and D’Aloisio said that he does not know the projected goal for next year, but UT will continue to have thoughtful, strategic growth.

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