Advisory Board holds Jan. 26 meeting

The University of Tennessee at Martin Advisory Board met Jan. 26 in the Boling University Center for a university update.

Among topics presented were academics restructuring in athletics, estimated enrollment for the upcoming fall semester, the proposed Business Administration Building and the use of grant funding for the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Ashley Bynum, the associate athletics director for internal operations, reported that UT Martin student-athletes have maintained a 3.2 or better grade-point average in each semester since the Fall 2019 semester, which is an intercollegiate athletics goal.

“We did some restructuring around the Fall 2019 semester, added some personnel to our academic staff and completely restructured what our policies, procedures and methods are for our student-athlete academic support,” she said.

“We had a significant increase in our GPA as a result of that restructure in our ability to think outside the box with how we would handle academic support for student-athletes.”

Bynum added that the athletics department’s goal is to have a graduation success rate that meets or exceeds the NCAA average and the university rate.

Bynum said the transfer portal affects that rate, since the graduation success rate formula considers the number of new freshmen coming in and if those freshmen graduate from UT Martin.

“So, if we had a student-athlete that chooses to transfer away from UT Martin and graduate from another institution, we’re docked for that student because they didn’t graduate from our institution,” she said.

“We had one of our best years in the 2021-22 academic year, which is the most recently published data, at 65%.”

Bynum also spoke about the effect that recent Name, Image and Likeness legislation – that enables student-athletes to make money off of those – may have on athletics recruiting.

Destin Tucker, the director of undergraduate admissions, reported on the retention rate for the university as well as the goals for the Fall 2024 semester.

“Our overall enrollment goal for Fall 2024 is 7,105 students, which represents a 2.2% increase,” she said. “It would put us over the 7,000-student mark, which we’ve been below over the past couple of years.

“The first-year student goal is 1,157 students, which is a 4% increase. We are anticipating an increase in first-year transfer students, in large part due to some scholarship increases that we were able to implement this year.

“We’ve seen several years of decline in transfer students. Our community colleges have seen large declines, so that’s a big part of it. For Fall 2023, the community colleges (in our region) were down an average of about 10% in their enrollment, so we were down about 7% in transfer students.”

Tucker said that Dr. Joey Mehlhorn, the dean of graduate studies, said first-time graduate students would be up 8.6% to 190 first-time graduate students in Fall 2024.

Jeanna Curtis-Swafford, the interim vice chancellor for university advancement, and Petra McPhearson, the senior vice chancellor for finance and administration, spoke about the proposed new business building for the campus.

“The current building that houses business administration was built in 1951 as a dormitory after World War II,” she said. “It was named Browning Hall, and it was converted from a dormitory into offices and classrooms in 1975. In 1990, the name was changed from Browning Hall to the Business Administration Building, and it continues to be the top priority of the chancellor, dean and College of Business Affairs faculty to have this new state-of-the-art building.

“In 2021, we received from an alumnus a lead gift of up to $4 million that would exceed the state match.”

The total project cost for the proposed business building is $61 million.

The Advisory Board recognized the University of Tennessee Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award winners from UT Martin, Dr. Jason Roberts from the Department of Agriculture, Geoscience and Natural Resources and Dr. Janet Wilbert from the Department of Health and Human Performance.

Dr. Anderson Starling spoke to the advisory board about how the university would spend the more than $1.54 million dollars it was awarded in September through a five-year Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

Starling serves as the interim director of the Center for Teaching and Learning program being funded by the grant.

“There are two overarching goals that we want to use this $1.5 million for over the next five years,” he told the board. “The first is creating a Center for Teaching and Learning. This is an endeavor we’ve been discussing here on this campus for some time, and it’s included in our strategic plan as well.

“And then, No. 2, to create a learning commons to centralize learning support services and expand high-impact practices.”

Starling compared a learning commons with a student tutoring center, as it would be a place where students from varied areas of learning can come to speak with a professional learning assistants to help them improve with their coursework.

Chancellor Yancy Freeman spoke about his experience in his first few months in office since beginning on Aug. 9. He mentioned speaking with former chancellor Dr. Margaret Perry.

“She said, ‘This job as chancellor is not a job, it’s not a career; it’s a lifestyle,’” he said. “That is definitely what I have learned through the fall semester. To that end, I had almost 500 meetings this past fall, going to all the regional centers, meeting with alums, meeting with students and legislators as well as faculty and staff.

“Another big thing that happened this fall is the reaffirmation of our SACSCOC reaccreditation. It was huge. We attended the conference in Orlando, and it went so incredibly well that the vice president for our area called us out of the room and said, ‘I’m not even going to take you to the next room because you passed with such flying colors. There is no need to make you walk.’ It is a true testament to the quality of the academic programs and the hard work that we put into it.”

The next scheduled UTM Advisory Board meeting will be at 1 p.m. Friday, May 17, in Room 206 of the Boling University Center.

Photo: Chancellor Yancy Freeman speaks to the Advisory Board during the Jan. 26 meeting. Freeman spoke to the advisory board about the reaffirmation of the university’s accreditation through SACSCOC.

Previous Story

FAFSA information available through UTM office

Next Story

UTM students to work at Super Bowl LVIII