Yesterday, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro joined President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.
The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps support the President’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help our nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.
DiPietro was invited to participate in the event because of White House interest in the Transfer Project, a system-wide initiative to improve college access and completion for low-income and non-traditional students throughout Tennessee. Through a two-pronged approach, this initiative is being implemented and has the potential to benefit more than 11,000 students statewide over the next five years.
First, it enables community college transfer students to receive associate degrees retroactively after completing all requirements as undergraduates at four-year schools and, second, it guides incoming community college transfer students in to undergraduate majors that best align with already completed course work. The first of these retroactive associate degrees are expected to be awarded in May 2015.
About 2,300 students transfer each year from Tennessee’s community colleges to four-year universities with at least 45 of the 60 hours required for most associate degrees. With more Tennesseans entering community colleges through a new last-dollar scholarship program called “Tennessee Promise,” UT wants to encourage qualified students to continue their education to a bachelor’s degree or more.
“The Transfer Project is part of UT’s overall effort to improve educational attainment and meet the broader state goal of achieving 55 percent of Tennesseans earning an associate degree or higher by 2025,” UT President DiPietro said. “I’m also pleased to announce a specific focus on the production of ‘STEM’ degrees – in science, technology, engineering and math – through new accountability measures tied to the performance evaluation of each UT campus chancellor.”
DiPietro also is a member of the National Association of System Heads, or NASH, and in that role will represent the UT System which has signed on to the NASH initiative, “Taking Student Success to Scale.” This program seeks to produce at least 1 million new college graduates nationally by 2025 and will be discussed at the summit. The UT System’s involvement will be through interventions to further enhance student success, including “Guided Pathways Using Predictive Analysis” and “High Impact Practices for Students.”
Along with DiPietro, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek attended the White House event.
“UT Knoxville has made great progress in improving retention, completion and graduation of its students, and I’m proud that Chancellor Cheek has been invited to share insight into the successful steps implemented on his campus,” DiPietro said. “And all of us in higher education are pleased that Tennessee, under the leadership of Governor Haslam, has clearly emerged as a national leader on the college completion agenda.”
Participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
President Barack Obama announced new steps on how his Administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. Yesterday’s event is the second College Opportunity Day of Action, and included a progress report on the commitments made at the first day of action on January 14, 2014.
Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class. Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.
DiPietro has been UT President since Jan. 1, 2011. In that role, he is the chief executive officer of the University of Tennessee System, which includes the flagship campus in Knoxville, campuses in Chattanooga and Martin, the Health Science Center in Memphis, the Space Institute in Tullahoma, and the statewide institutes of agriculture and public service. The UT President also serves as chairman of the Board of Governors of UT-Battelle, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy, and as a member of the UT Board of Trustees.