In 1915, when a group of local businessmen and civic leaders convinced the state of Tennessee to establish an institution of higher education in Cookeville, local girls and boys finally had the opportunity to study at a public college close to home. Since 1915, Tech has advanced from:
- The first class year to the 100th.
- Fewer than 1,000 students to more than 11,000.
- One building to nearly 100 and from 25 acres to more than 250.
Tennessee Tech University’s Centennial Celebration begins with the 100th anniversary of the date Tennessee Polytechnic Institute was established. The 100th academic year begins with fall semester of 2015. Throughout the 2015-2016 academic year, expect special events and projects worthy of the commemoration of Tennessee Tech’s first 100 years. Highlights of the centennial calendar:
March 27, 2015 – Charter Day
May 9, 2015 – Commencement
Sept. 18, 2015 – Downtown Kick-off
Nov. 14, 2015 – Centennial Homecoming
Dec. 12, 2015 – Commencement
April 1, 2016 – Centennial Gala
April 16, 2016 – Centennial Spring Finale Week
May 7, 2016 – Commencement.
Chartering the college that would become Tennessee Technological University began with a grassroots effort in the early 1900s in response to two needs: the first, to help build a bigger technical workforce in Tennessee and, second, to bring public higher education to a region where money was scarce and education scarcer still.
In 1909, local business and religious leaders lobbied hard to site a public college in Cookeville, but failed. Undaunted, the elders of a local Church of Christ founded a private college to be funded mostly by subscriptions and tuition — as it turns out, an overly ambitious goal in an area of Tennessee with little wealth. The school, Dixie College, was on the verge of closing its doors when church elders, with the promise of financial backing from the Cookeville and Putnam County governments, offered to deed the school to the state. A bill was presented, fierce debates about funding and location ensued, but ultimately, Cookeville prevailed, and Gov. Thomas Rye signed the charter establishing Tennessee Polytechnic Institute on March 27, 1915.
Tech enrolled both high school and junior college students intended to contribute to the skilled workforce of Middle Tennessee. In-state students were offered the opportunity to work for their tuition, room and board through a “practical work” program. Students grew and prepared their own vegetables and fruit, tended livestock, helped construct buildings– not only paying their way through school but contributing to the overall cost of running the school. The president and faculty were determined to make this educational effort a success.
Trials faced Tennessee Tech — as they did most colleges — over the years. Enrollment was so slim in the early days that the school earned part of its funding through a World War I program for wounded veterans. The Great Depression delayed faculty and staff salaries and the operating budget was slashed. World War II siphoned off both students and faculty, and enrollment plummeted. Again, Tech rallied, becoming a war-time training ground for soldiers and staff.
By the 1950s and 1960s in the post-war economic boom, Tech was thriving. Programs expanded to include more graduate studies, the campus and physical plant nearly doubled, enrollment increased ten-fold. In 1965, Gov. Frank Clement signed the bill approving Tech’s climb to university status; from now on, it would be known as “Tennessee Technological University.”
Science and technological studies — tempered by arts and humanities, business and education, agriculture and human ecology, nursing and health sciences, and custom interdisciplinary degrees — flourished. Enrollment doubled, and research grants from state and federal agencies poured in to doctoral faculty. Students benefitted, career achievements reaching new heights at commercial aeronautical and engineering contractors, national laboratories and medical research centers, major news outlets, professional sports, the Armed Forces, NASA, the Department of Defense. For more than a decade, Tech has been ranked by a steadily growing number of media and other agencies as among the best in the Southeast and U.S. in academics, career outcomes and — harkening back to its roots — affordability.
Over the past 100 years, the people of Tennessee Tech have paused periodically to reassess, retool and transform — from making college possible for the region’s children, to settling in as the leading professional incubator for area business and industry, to expanding research contributions at home and overseas. Tech’s 100th anniversary is a singular moment in the university’s history. It’s a turning point acknowledging that today’s success is built on yesterday’s foundation — that carrying out its founders’ vision requires vigilance and foresight, an eagle’s eye toward the horizon.
FYI: Tennessee Tech University at 100
- Charter for Tennessee Polytechnic Institute signed on March 27, 1915, in Nashville by Gov. Thomas Rye.
- Classes began on Sept. 14, 1916.
- College enrollment totaled 19 in 1916, just over 400 in 1943, just over 4,000 in 1964, and 11,300 in 2015.
- Campus grew from one building to nearly 100, from 25 acres to 250.
- TPI achieved university status in 1965 during its 50th anniversary celebration. Bill signed on Feb. 16, 1965, in Nashville by Gov. Frank Clement.
- Three concentrations offered in 1916: agriculture, home economics and mechanical arts.
- More than 40 fields of study offered in 2015, leading to baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees housed in seven colleges and one school.
- More than 78,000 degrees granted.