Before its fourth year of operation, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek and Pellissippi State College President Anthony Wise signed a memorandum of understanding to enrich the Volunteer Bridge Program on Wednesday.

Founded in 2011, the Bridge Program provides wait-listed and initially declined applicants to UT the opportunity to take freshman level courses at Pellissippi, while living on UT's campus. Upon completion of the program, students may transfer to UT for their sophomore year.

"Primarily, the changes are just to make the program a bit more flexible to accommodate more students and give them more opportunities to make a successful transition," said Jessie Abernathy, Bridge Program coordinator at UT and assistant director of First Year Studies.

Significant changes to the program include the elimination of a regulation requiring first year Bridge students to live in a UT residence hall.

Students living within 50 miles of campus now qualify as well.

Students are also no longer required to participate in summer second session classes at UT before entering Pellissippi in the fall. Instead, they will be given the choice to take classes in summer 2014 or 2015.

Furthermore, applicants will now undergo a more holistic application review before gaining admission to UT for their sophomore year. Previously, only credit hours and GPA requirements were evaluated.

Rather than a minimum 2.5 GPA for sophomore admission, admission will now accept a window of 2.0-2.49. Cheek said he believes this will provide a better indicator of preparation for life at UT.

"We really are going to open up the program, and we will grow the program," said Ruth Darling, assistant provost for Student Success at UT.

The program has also been renamed the Volunteer Bridge Program, "so everybody knows where they are going to school when they finish," Cheek said.

These changes follow Chancellor Cheek's recent trip to the White House, where he attended a summit on higher education. There, Cheek vowed to facilitate greater collaboration with community colleges and increase university emphasis on attracting transfer students from community colleges.

"We have a real strong relationship between the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Pellissippi State Community College," Cheek said, "and we want to have even stronger relationships with each of the community colleges in the state of Tennessee."

Cheek confirmed that he and Wise, along with other state colleagues, visited Nashville on Feb. 5 to discuss additional plans to strengthen that relationship in the future.

Abernathy said the transfer success rate for the Bridge Program students has only increased since its pilot year. Two students who participated in the Bridge Program were present at Wednesday's signing to comment on their unique experiences.

"I would have preferred these changes when I was there," said Marcus Hudson, a junior kinesiology student minoring in business.

Hudson was one of the Bridge Program's first students in 2011. If not for the program, Hudson said he would likely have attended UT-Chattanooga, hoping to eventually transfer to UT-Knoxville.

"I wanted to go to UT," Hudson said. "My sister graduated from here and got her masters."

Matt Krebs, a sophomore political science major was part of the Bridge Program's second group of students.

"I consider myself special because in high school I was very immature and didn't really take academics seriously, but the Bridge Program really helped me mature a lot," Krebs said. "If I went to community college I would have had to live at home, and I didn't really want to do that – not that I don't love my family – but I kind of wanted to go my own way, and it provided me a college experience that I was hoping to get."

Both students agreed that living on UT's campus was the best part of the Bridge Program.

"This has been a long successful partnership, and I think it will improve as a consequence of this memorandum," Cheek said. "It's just one more option to achieve your goal to being a Volunteer."

Eighty-six students have successfully completed the program and 38 are currently enrolled. Invitations for the 2014-2015 year will be sent out in February with the hope of recruiting 75-100 Volunteer Bridge students.

For more information about the Volunteer Bridge Program, click here.