Student rates

Vice Provost Delivers Student Success Speech at Gallup Summit

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Vice Provost for Student Success, Amber Williams, delivered a keynote address at the 2022 Gallup At Work Summit in early June, highlighting UT’s innovative student support initiatives. More than 5,000 professionals attended the virtual conference, which included presentations from executives from Southwest Airlines and Paramount Pictures.

In her presentation, Williams described building a campus where students receive the resources and community support they need to succeed, and how these strategies are paying off at UT with record high graduation and retention rates. .

Over the past two years, while the national retention rate has dropped nearly 2 percentage points, UT’s rate has increased. This spring, 96% of freshmen returned for their spring semester, the highest rate in recent years.

Nationally, about four in ten students don’t graduate in six years, often because they don’t see a campus community that reflects them, they endure financial obstacles or personal hardships, or they start to see others succeed without a degree and wonder if they need it, Williams said.

“On top of all these challenges, they face a higher education system that doesn’t understand them and was never designed to include them,” she said. “But what if we could change that? What if we created a campus where we believed in the potential of every student?

UT does just that by creating a strengths-based campus where students learn to identify and leverage their strengths and develop strategies that help them thrive. The top Gallup Strengths qualities identified among Tennessee college students are restorative, high-achieving, competitive, adaptable, and empathetic.

These qualities describe students who are problem solvers with the empathy needed to identify the challenges in our society even if they are not personally affected by those challenges.

“The more we learn about our students, the more we understand them,” Williams said. “When we understand them, we can create the experiences they want, provide the resources they need, and the community they want to be part of.”

In the fall of 2020, UT Student Success Division spear Flight Success Teams, an initiative that assigns each student an academic coach, academic advisor, and financial aid advisor. Students who engaged with their team reported higher GPAs and a greater sense of belonging.

This fall, the division launched the UT Success Academyaimed at helping Black and Latino men who have lower retention and graduation rates than their peers despite comparable GPAs and test scores.

“They told us they needed a community they belonged in and the confidence to succeed,” Williams said.

The academy, which takes a group of students through four years of strengths-based and relationship-building study, has been so successful in its first year that the university plans to start academies similar for groups such as military veterans and first-generation college students.

“The University of Tennessee is that place where future leaders find their voice and reveal their courage, where young people thrive and learn to excel in times big and small,” Williams told conference attendees.

“Our graduates will one day work in your organization or company, and I promise you they will thrive there too, all because they know how to leverage their strengths, are ready to build consensus, and are are ready to advance in service and leadership.”


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, [email protected])

Lacey Wood (865-974-8386, [email protected])