NASHVILLE – The annual State of the University address, hosted by University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd, highlighted the substantial value of higher education, the University’s statewide influence on workforce development and how those elements interconnect to foster a thriving economic future.
The event featured a panel discussion between the leaders of all five UT campuses located in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, Memphis and Pulaski. The discussion was moderated by Boyd and David Plazas, director of opinion and engagement for the USA Today Network-Tennessee/The Tennessean.
Now at year five of his presidency, Boyd lauded the statewide impact that the UT System has had as it reaches the halfway point in what he declares will be the greatest decade in UT history. He also explained the University’s influence on workforce development across the state.
“The University of Tennessee is the talent engine for the state of Tennessee when it comes to workforce,” Boyd said. “As more people and more businesses are moving into Tennessee, we need to keep pace with the new demands of the workforce. More than 70% of Tennessee business leaders agree there is an insufficient supply of appropriately trained workers.”
UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman added that UT is beginning to make a significant difference in growing Tennessee’s workforce. “Last year at UT Knoxville, 90% of students who graduated within six months had a job or were on their way to graduate school.”
And at UT Southern, more than 80% of students who graduate in the nursing and education fields remain in Tennessee to work in the state’s most rural areas, according to Linda Martin, UT Southern interim chancellor.
Martin said her campus has a continued ripple effect in rural Southern Middle Tennessee. “A college education doesn’t just change the lives of the students, it changes the lives of the families,” she said. “That is very apparent in what we do, and I think that’s something that’s often overlooked.”
Steve Angle, chancellor of UT Chattanooga, focused on the importance of innovation and nimbleness. UT Chattanooga has had a long-standing relationship with the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga and are now collectively building the first “Quantum City” in the country, which will generate even greater growth opportunities beyond the first Gig City a decade ago. UTC also partners with Volkswagen, which has its North American headquarters and manufacturing just 10 miles from the campus.
For the UT Health Science Center, located in Memphis, but with a far-reaching statewide impact, Chancellor Peter Buckley stressed the importance of rural health care. “In rural Appalachia, there are an average of four dentists per 100,000 people as opposed to the national rate of 60 dentists per 100,000,” he said. “When health professionals train in a community and are embraced in a community, they stay in that community.” The UT Health Science Center College of Dentistry’s Healthy Smiles Initiative seeks to increase dental class sizes and add new clinical sites across Tennessee for student clinical rotations, with a goal of improving access to dental care across the state. In these rotations, students get hands-on experience treating patients in the community who might otherwise not have access to care.
In West Tennessee, UT Martin has established five regional centers established that work to provide an additional pathway to a college degree. “As we feed into rural communities in this state, education is that pathway to a better life, better health outcomes and better education outcomes,” said Yancy Freeman, chancellor of UT Martin.
For more information on the State of the University event, or to access the full video, please visit https://tennessee.edu/state-of-ut/.
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