Brandalyn Shropshire said she noticed a change last fall.
Shropshire is the associate director of engagement in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Office of Undergraduate Admissions. One of her many roles is overseeing campus tours, and she has seen a considerable increase in the number of out-of-state students coming to visit and tour UTC.
“I honestly would say I really noticed it toward the end of the fall term—and it has progressed,” said Shropshire, who has worked for the University since 2006. “Initially, you saw a lot of students from Georgia and the counties in the border regional tuition rate area. But then I started seeing a lot of students from Atlanta, and as time has progressed, that has expanded.”
In the past year and a half, the admissions office added Jawaad Sheikh as a regional recruiter for Atlanta.
“He covers the north Georgia counties that are in our regional tuition area all the way down through the entire state of Georgia,” she said, “and I do feel that his presence truly speaks to the uptick in students coming from Atlanta.”
The increase in interest, she said, is not limited to the northern third of Georgia.
Shropshire, who received a bachelor’s degree in communication from UTC in 2008—“and hopefully my master’s from here this December”—likes to talk to prospective students and their families about the benefits of UTC from the perspective of someone not from the area.
“I’m a preacher’s kid. I’m from a little bit of everywhere,” she said, saying she’s a combination of Nashville and Muskegon, Michigan—along with Macon and Warner Robins, Georgia. “I think that’s a big draw for how I’m able to connect with people from other places. I know the things you’re looking for when you come somewhere new. You want to see a friendly face. You want to be able to navigate and figure out how you fit into the puzzle.
“During tours we do an informational session, and to make it a little bit more interactive when I’m doing the tour talk, I always ask everybody in the room, ‘Where are you from?’ Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had people from Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri. So it’s starting to expand further and further out.”
The students on the front lines during summer orientation sessions—the UTC orientation leaders—have also noticed an increase in incoming first-year students from other states.
Recently, orientation leader Kyle Wightman led a group around campus that included an incoming female student from California.
“It was surprising. I never thought of UTC as being a huge school, although it’s a lot bigger than it seems,” said Wightman, a senior majoring in business management. “To see that we’re getting students from all across the United States is kind of interesting to see.”
Wightman, too, comes from different parts of the country. He grew up in Westmont, Illinois, before his family moved to Hendersonville, North Carolina, shortly after he began high school.
After two and a half years of attending a community college near his home, he came to UTC to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “I never really ventured into Tennessee until I started going to college here,” Wightman said.
He has his elevator pitch ready when incoming students ask about coming to UTC from out of state.
“I feel like this is a really diverse city; you can find what you want to do, so there’s definitely an outdoor appeal to it,” he said. “There’s plenty of places to hike, go paddle boarding, kayaking, but it’s also a city where you can go shopping—and there’s a lot of different places to go out to eat, which is one of my favorite things to do in Chattanooga.”
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While official census data for the fall 2023 semester won’t be known until mid-September, UTC looks to continue to build upon its number of out-of-state students.
At the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year, 10.4% of UTC’s 11,299 students came from out-of-state—including 712 students from Georgia and 108 from Alabama. A total of 351 others hailed from 30 additional states plus the District of Columbia.
In comparison, the fall 2019 semester—before the introduction of the border state rate—saw 7.9% of students coming from other states.
Earlier this year, a decision was made to reduce out-of-state tuition costs to equal border-state rates. Shropshire said it’s already a big selling point.
“Our new or current out-of-state rate is comparable and competitive to a lot of states’ in-state rate,” she said. “Coupled with the fact our campus gives such a unique experience to students because everyone’s so friendly—it is like a little slice of home—I think those two factors draw students in.”
Among the attendees at the June 12-13 orientation session for new Mocs were incoming freshman Marissa Pesava and her mom, Shelly. The Pesavas drove from St. Charles, Illinois, located about an hour west of Chicago and nearly 650 miles from Chattanooga.
Marissa Pesava plans to major in marketing at UTC.
“I chose the location because it’s a beautiful campus,” she said. “Chattanooga’s an up-and-coming city that’s been booming, and Tennessee is a really great state to excel in the marketing industry.
“Even though it’s a far drive, it’s a scenic one, and the people down here are nice and welcoming.”
Her father, Larry, works for a company whose corporate office is in Nashville. After being told Marissa should visit UTC, the family came to see the campus.
Marissa was hooked.
“When we visited, it just felt like home to me,” she said. “Everybody was so welcoming and inviting, the community was fantastic and (UTC) had great opportunities for the marketing industry.”
Shelly Pesava called the reduction in tuition rates for out-of-state students a deciding factor. That, and she sensed right away that UTC was Marissa’s college of choice.
“She knew it was home,” she said. “I have to be honest with you: It’s not easy. I want my kids near me. But I said to Marissa, ‘As much as I really want you near me, that’s selfish of me. I want you to be where you belong.’ And she belongs here.”
Another long-distance traveler who will soon call UTC home is Joseph Ryan, who hails from upstate New York.
Ryan, who plans to major in Secondary Education: History, laughed when he started to tell his story of how UTC became his college destination.
“Right out of high school I was like, ‘I’m going to be a police officer.’ I went to a local community college for a couple weeks, then took a couple tests and realized, ‘I’m not going to be a police officer. I can’t do this,’” said Ryan, a 2022 McGraw (New York) High School graduate. “I don’t like confrontation or blood, so looking back on it, that’s probably the last thing I should have done.”
Over the last year, Ryan worked full-time while mulling his future. “I thought, ‘Something will pop up. Maybe I’ll go into a trade.’ But then my girlfriend went to Chattanooga for college. I went down there and visited a couple times.”
His girlfriend, Tehya Long, is a rising sophomore majoring in Sport, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management. Born in Summertown, Tennessee, she moved to New York as a 9-year-old. Like Ryan, she is a 2022 McGraw High graduate.
When Ryan came to town to visit Long in February, a canceled flight kept him in Chattanooga an extra day—and contributed to his decision to attend UTC.
“When I called her and said we weren’t going anywhere, she returned to the airport and picked me up and we went to Cook Out—which we don’t have in New York,” he recalled. “We kept talking and it was like, ‘Hey, it would be really fun if I was down here, too.’
“I had so much fun at the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministries) and hanging out with her friends outside Boling Apartments. I met so many great people, so there were a lot of little things that pointed to me coming down there.”
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