Navigable Waters

Have you heard the saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats?”

If you’ve never said it before, say it now. UT Southern in Pulaski became the newest campus in the University of Tennessee system July 1, and it’s raising the water level for everyone in this region.

Randy Boyd is an entrepreneur, former Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development, and President of the UT System. He understands that education fuels economic growth.

“UT Southern is more than just our newest addition,” Boyd said. “It represents opportunity, revival, long-term economic success and forward momentum in the Southern Middle Tennessee region.”

We live in a 23-county area that before last Thursday had no four-year public university. Thousands of students have moved away or commuted to schools in North Alabama over the years. It’s no coincidence that this region has one of the lowest college completion rates in Tennessee.

The merger that made Martin Methodist part of the public UT system dropped annual tuition and fees at the school from $26,000 to $10,200. The UT Promise covers tuition and fees for students with household incomes of less than $50,000 a year.

Martin Methodist made many contributions to this area over its 151 years. Faith in its value is demonstrated by the fact that MMC President Mark LaBranche will be Chancellor of UT Southern. The school also hopes to maintain the small class sizes that distinguished MMC. Student athletes will be “Firehawks” and wear a logo combining the MMC “Red Hawk” with UT Orange. I’m glad they’re not the “Fighting Catfish,” another team name on an initial list of options.

I’m also glad Lawrence Countians weren’t the only ones who recognized the need for more educational opportunities here. Six years ago we came up with the idea of a facility where students could earn an Associate’s degree through Columbia State, then Bachelor’s degrees through programs brought to it by four-year universities. The timing couldn’t be better.

Columbia State and Tennessee Tech classes leading to Associate and Bachelor degrees begin this fall and I am thrilled with that partnership, which offers degrees UT Southern does not. No one expects UT Southern classes at STHEC this coming semester, but everyone associated with the school is excited about the classroom space it offers, an easy 20 minute drive from Pulaski – about the same (with less traffic) as a drive across the UT Knoxville campus.

Officials are also interested in the potential for more classrooms at the Lawrence County site. Eighty acres were purchased for the campus, the rest lying south of the first building. The master drawing for the site included 12 more buildings and the infrastructure is already in place to serve them.

UT Southern offers this region fantastic opportunities for growth and improved quality of life for generations to come. The tide is rising, so get on board.

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