A new program offering free tuition to qualifying University of Tennessee students was the highlight of interim UT president Randy Boyd’s address Tuesday, Sept. 17, during the latest Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Speaker Series.
Boyd, who spoke before a sold-out crowd at Fox Den Country Club, was upbeat and enthusiastic as he shared information about the newly-launching program, UT Promise, which will officially start in the fall of 2020.
Students who academically earn the right for admission to UT and whose families earn less than $50,000 will be eligible for UT Promise, he said.
“This is something I am very proud of,” Boyd added. “It will help us recruit more students and also help us retain more students.
“I hope parents will encourage their children, and tell them if they can earn the grades, they can earn the chance to go to UT,” he added.
Boyd acknowledged the name itself “is not unique,” as it is patterned after Tennessee Promise, which offers free community college tuition for qualifying high school graduates.
However, UT Promise itself is distinctive, as it will be “the first in the country” among universities, he said.
Boyd said the program had been developed earlier this year, and further details will be shared in the coming weeks.
The program also ties into Boyd’s vision that the University will develop more of a reputation for inclusivity.
He remarked on the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which Boyd said “relies on how many students you exclude.
“The more kids you reject, the more exclusive you are,” he added.
“But I don’t want us to be known for exclusivity, but, rather, inclusivity.”
Boyd also took the opportunity to share an overview of the UT system, which in addition to five campuses across the state also reaches each of the 95 counties through UT Extension program.
“We offer tremendous agricultural support, but we also oversee all the state’s 4-H students,” he said. “Tennessee has 186,000 4-H club members, giving us the largest 4-H Club in the country. It’s even larger than Texas.”
Boyd said among his challenges was hiring UT’s newest Chancellor, Donde Plowman.
“It was the hardest, easiest and best decision I have made since I have been there,” he said. “Hard, because of the processes you have to go through but easiest because it was so clear she was the absolute perfect person for the job.”
Boyd took questions following his presentation, with former Knox County Commissioner Mike Arms leading off by asking, “What would it take to take away the ‘interim’ from your title?”
Boyd, who has served in that capacity since November 2018, smiled and said, “that decision is really up to my wife, but there have been some negotiations.”
He was also asked if “anyone ever asked about the (UT) Football program,” and he responded he had even been quizzed about it by an older lady at church.
“So, yes, I do get that question,” he said. “But the truth is, it’s not my job to oversee the football program, and I do get a little frustrated with how impatient people seem to be.
“The worst thing we could do is change coaches every other year. We’ve had five coaches in 10 years. I just think if we can stay the course, we will be successful.”