COOKEVILLE – Nearly six years into his time at Tennessee Tech University, President Phil Oldham has accepted a contract to serve the university for another five years.
The contract was approved by the Tech Board of Trustees at its March meeting.
“The Board of Trustees has placed its faith in Oldham to carry out the mission of Tennessee Tech,” said Board Chair Tom Jones. “This is a university whose legacy of more than 100 years has had a real impact on so many. We look forward to seeing where President Oldham’s vision for Tech takes this university.”
For Oldham, who became the university’s ninth president in 2012, the future at Tech is about solidifying the university’s identity and realizing its potential.
“Our students are our priority. What we set to accomplish focuses on putting students first,” Oldham said. “People often talk about what great potential there is at Tennessee Tech. It is time to stop talking and start building the Tennessee Tech of tomorrow.”
Oldham is leading Tech through a phase of campus construction and revitalization not seen at the university in decades. Since he arrived, the Jere Whitson Building and other buildings on campus have been renovated, an expansion of the Roaden University Center has begun and the university broke ground on a new student fitness center and a laboratory sciences building. The next five years will allow Oldham to see those building projects complete.
With the recent development of a faculty-led strategic plan, Oldham sees a turning point for Tech.
“I believe that 30 years from now, we will look back and see that this is the point where Tech found its true identity and its place as a university.”
The university has seen progress since Oldham’s arrival, with first-year retention for freshmen students reaching a record high of 79 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 51 percent. The average ACT score of incoming freshmen is the highest in school history.
The university has made strides to improve student advising with the establishment of student success centers in every college and focused support for freshmen students with the Flight Path Attendance initiative designed to encourage consistent class attendance.
In 2016, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education recognized Tech as a doctoral institution, moving it from a regional school to a national university.
According to recent rankings, a Tech degree has the highest return on investment of any public university in the state according to Payscale, Brookings Institute. Tech is the top public university in the state for stimulating economic mobility, according to Washington Monthly’s Social Mobility Index.
During Oldham’s time leading the university, Tech launched its “Tennessee Tech Tomorrow” capital campaign, which has raised nearly $50 million towards its $60 million goal.
Tech’s academic offerings have grown under Oldham’s leadership as well. Since 2013, the university has added a Master of Accountancy degree program, established two joint degree programs with East Tennessee State University, added Professional Science Master’s degrees, and established a cybersecurity concentration in computer science. In 2017, Tech established a College of Fine Arts.
The university has also expanded assistance to veterans and service members, established the Eagles’ Reach multi-state regional tuition discount program, and reduced class sizes for students, bringing the overall student-to-faculty ratio down to 18:1.
Oldham’s time at Tech has not been without challenges. In 2013, the university’s ROTC program was threatened with closure, and Oldham rallied the campus, community and elected officials to save the program.
The university weathered Tennessee Promise, which brought a decline in enrollment. However, in 2017, enrollment stabilized, and the university saw its largest freshmen class in three years.
As universities across Tennessee faced a challenging transition with the state’s FOCUS Act, Oldham embraced the change as an opportunity for Tech to be more nimble and responsive to serving students and communities.
Going forward, Oldham sees room to improve by working to maintain affordable tuition costs, increasing research at the university and infusing technology and innovation into the culture of the institution.
“We have to continue to put students first with more expansive and relevant offerings than ever before,” Oldham said. “There are two things universities have to do well: create and disseminate knowledge and identify and develop talent. At Tennessee Tech, I truly believe we can do those things in a way that sets us apart and go beyond by providing something students cannot get anywhere else.”