As the Tennessee General Assembly prepares to start its 2021 session in the next two weeks, an item that holds significance for Giles County is the proposed merger of the Martin Methodist College campus with the University of Tennessee System.

With that in mind, the UT Board of Trustees received updated projections and data on the proposed merger, including a possible name for the campus should the merger be approved.

UT President Randy Boyd told the trustees at their Jan. 22 meeting that focus groups, town hall meetings and surveys have been conducted over the last six weeks as to what the campus would be called.

“The overwhelming name chosen by the faculty and staff and the regional leaders there is UT Southern,” Boyd said. “The idea there is that they want a campus that reflects that it’s the campus for the whole region and not just for one city and one county. They’ve recommended the name UT Southern.”

Boyd stressed that it would be presumptuous to name a campus that hasn’t been officially approved, but noted that should the governor and legislature approve the proposed merger, the Board of Trustees would have the final word in the name of the campus.

The Board of Trustees received updated information with new data and projections on:

• Strategy for growing the proposed UT campus;

• Academic disciplines in which the campus can excel;

• Economic considerations with enrollment, retention and academic success; and

• Plans for engaging stakeholders, including faculty and staff, in ongoing discussions regarding the proposed acquisition.

Enrollment

Target enrollment over the next few years is 1,500, which is expected to be challenging due to the projected decline of traditional college-age students through 2031, according to the update presented to the Board of Trustees last week.

While the college-going rate in southern Middle Tennessee is below the state average, initiatives to decrease tuition, improve student retention and increase marketing would provide growth at a rate that current facilities and personnel can accommodate for the next three to five years.

“Targeting 1,500 mitigates the risk of growing too fast — enrollment growth must not outpace the ability of the campus to provide the resources — such as faculty, support personnel and facilities — to support a larger student population,” the update states.

Academics

The update also digs into the initial report’s emphasis that the UT System’s academic offerings and the current offerings at MMC will play a key role in the enrollment at the Giles County campus.

The overall strategy in academic disciplines is to continue MMC’s current plans for new programs and enhance current programs with existing resources.

Through planning, resource reconfiguration and the creation of new opportunities through collaboration, the update indicates current and new academic offerings will provide course offerings beneficial to potential students in the region, which is also expected to bolster enrollment.

Financials

Data was added to the estimates of the original Huron report to give the UT Board of Trustees an updated look at the financials of the proposed merger.

“The revised projections indicate positive cash flow during FY 2021-22 if enrollments remain steady at current levels and potential surpluses if enrollments grow,” the new report states.

Gov. Bill Lee has been asked to include funding for the merger and acquisition of the Martin Methodist College Campus into the UT System in his proposed budget, which is expected to go to the General Assembly Feb. 9.

That includes $5.1 million in recurring funds which is commensurate with annual funding received by other campuses in the UT System based on a formula.

Lee will also be asked to include one-time funding of $995,000 to cover the costs of the transition.

If the governor includes the UT/MMC merger in his budget, the issue would then move to the state legislature, which will be asked to authorize the acquisition and to approve the governor’s proposed budget for the merger.

If the proposed merger passes the government gauntlet it will still need the approval of accreditors before going back to the boards of trustees at both UT and Martin Methodist to become final.

MMC President Mark La Branche said the plan, should the merger pass all other hurdles, is to have the final vote of both boards of trustees before July 1 to allow the campus to start operating under its new institutional identity at the beginning of the 2021-22 fiscal year and school year.

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