Donde Plowman began by noting that she was on her way to Omaha to watch Saturday’s game against LSU in the College World Series, noting that she happily stayed up late watching the Vols win their exciting game against Southern Mississippi.

Chancellor Plowman noted that she spoke to our Rotary Club soon after she started as chancellor in June 2019, when she talked about strategic visioning.  Then, in December of 2019, came the coronavirus, when, she said, “We got to work on a new strategic vision.”  She noted that UT was cited as the fifth-best responder to the challenges of the pandemic.

She noted that she works for Randy Boyd, the ultimate salesman. She said she wanted us to think of UT through statements she promised to support in her remarks:

  1. This is a university that’s on the rise.
  2. We’re the everything school. “We were fifth in football, but we’ve been fifth in nuclear engineering for years.

Plowman reminded us of the Florida game, a great evening, which gave UT four hours of free marketing because ESPN Game Day was broadcasting from Ayers Hall. “In all they were here four times this year, more than any other school.  We beat Florida, but that Sunday morning, on Jake Tapper, two former governors, Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen started their unique podcast, in which they keep in mind Howard Baker’s famous advice to keep one’s ears open because ‘The other fella might just be right.’ If you haven’t listened to them, you should. They discuss issues in a civil way.”

Plowman noted that, for the first time in 50 years, UT is adding three new colleges—the College of Music, splitting off from the College of Arts & Sciences; the Howard Baker School Public Policy; and the College of Emerging and Collaborative Sciences.

She said she would address UT’s commitment to be a Research I university.  She said our alumni and donor support has never been stronger. And she foreshadowed her discussion about enrollment. “Yes, it’s a fact that the day after the Alabama game, 2,000 applications dropped.”  But along with the success of the various teams, she said that AD Danny White likes to say that UT’s athletes had the highest average GPA ever – 3.38. “He says, ‘When you are competitive in one area, you are competitive in the classroom too.’”

Plowman mentioned the Division of Student Success that was launched three years ago that has helped render improvements in the percentages of students who, when they come to UT, stay, and graduate.

“Our goal is for UT graduates to stay in Tennessee. This year we graduated 5,400 students, over 4,000 of whom were undergraduates. Studies have shown that 90% of UT graduates within six months either have a job or are in graduate school. Sixty percent of the kids from Tennessee take jobs in Tennessee. Of the out-of-state students, 40 percent stay in Tennessee.  More UT graduates are good for Tennessee.” A study of big employers showed that 66% of them say we don’t have enough workers, and 18% of the jobs require a four-year degree. And our state has 3.3% unemployment.

Another study showed that over a lifetime, a college graduate makes $3.7 million, some $2 million more than someone without a college degree.

Troubling trends: we are looking at a 16% decline in the number of kids going to high school, and only 53% of high school grads report that they are going to college.

UT has had a 10-year growth in applications: From 15,000 in 2013, UT had 50,000 applications for this current class.  UT’s enrollment is about 34,000. Next year it will be about 35,000. “We are stressed for beds, in part because we are retaining more students. We have a solution to the bed problem, in that we just got permission to work with private developers to build three dorms. One reason we need them is that sophomores want to stay on campus, which is a change from a few years ago.”

Last year there were some 6,850 new freshmen. This year that number will be slightly lower, but it’s hard to predict who will actually show up in August.

The retention rate for freshmen is 89%. The graduation rate is 73%. One reason for the rising retention rates is that 90% of students are assigned a team of advisors, including a “strength coach.” All the students take the Clifton Strengths test that shows each person their five top strengths that they can build on.

[Your scribe’s strengths are CONTEXT | INDIVIDUALIZATION | LEARNER | MAXIMIZER | POSITIVITY, the last of which is apparently shared with our speaker. There are 32 different strengths. Here’s what Clifton says about Individualization: “Because you have high Individualization, you are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. You have a gift for figuring out how different people can work together productively.”]

“People say that UT is a big school but it feels small.”  Each student has a One Stop coach to help with bills and other administrative hassles. “We want our students to feel cared for, loved, and directed.”

On the topic of academic quality, Plowman noted that UT is a top producer of Fulbright Scholars—more than Dartmouth and Stanford.

In the area of Research, UT is going for bigger research projects involving interdisciplinary teams, which has put the total of proposals at $1 billion. UT has also adopted a Strategic Research Initiative when it comes to hiring faculty, allotting $50 million to strategic hires in five key priorities:

  1. Advanced manufacturing and materials
  2. AI for Tennessee
  3. Energy
  4. the Environment
  5. Human health and wellness

Another hot area is the future of mobility, which we’re teaming with ORNL on.  Also, VW started an Innovation Hub, one of six in the country, at UT.

Of course, we were the All-Sport SEC champs for the second year in a row, as football beat Bama and won the Orange Bowl; men’s and women’s hoops both made the Sweet 16, and baseball and softball both made their respective World Series.

Annette asked about the bad news about fewer men going to college. “We are very concerned about the drop in the number of men going to college,” said Plowman. “This year our class was 59% women and 41% men. We are doing well at retaining the men we get, but we need to work on encouraging more men to think about college.”

Bob Marquis asked about core curriculums. “We have our Vol Core general education requirements,” said Plowman.”

Alan Lee asked about diversity efforts. Plowman pointed to the Diversity and Engagement organization led by Tyvi Small. “We want to recruit a student body, faculty, and staff that reflects the make-up of our state. And we want an environment where people matter and belong.” She pointed to different groups who need different kinds of support, such as first-generation college students. “Veterans, as another example, are a group that need different support than other people, and we need to be aware of that,” said Plowman.