However, the effort to establish a school, college, or university in Cookeville had begun several years earlier. Cookeville’s remote location and meager population (less than Tech’s current student enrollment) made it an unlikely site to build Tennessee’s newest educational institution specializing in “technical education” and teacher training.
Although there are numerous ambiguities, inconsistencies, and curiosities contained within the historical record, three truths stand clear.
Firstly, Tennessee Tech University would not be here today if not for 10 local citizens, led by Jeremiah Whitson along with a few dozen others, who invested time, money, and property to establish the University of Dixie, which soon became TPI.
Secondly, TPI faced hardship and financial austerity from the very beginning. TPI’s mission to provide educational access and opportunity to people throughout the Upper Cumberland necessitated low student tuition and fees since the average family income was less than $1,000 annually.
Lastly, just as it was for a newly created state institution, politics and public sentiment continue to play a significant role in shaping our 100-year history.
With 18 acres of undeveloped land, one academic building (Derryberry Hall), and two dormitories (Bartoo and Kittrell), TPI opened its doors to 19 students in fall 1916. Today, Tennessee Tech University’s campus exceeds 250 acres with about 100 buildings and enrolls more than 11,000 students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in more than 40 different fields of study. Over the past 100 years, TTU has produced more than 78,000 alumni who have gone on to successful careers and productive lives.
Yes, we have much to celebrate as we reflect on our proud heritage. However, this dream is far from over!
What will our academic descendants say about us 100 years from now during the Bicentennial celebration? How will we keep higher education affordable and encourage more students to continue their educations? How will we continue to increase the value of a Tennessee Tech education for every student, while state funding continues to decline? Education has never been as critical to our nation’s future economic and national security as it is today. The challenges are many, but just like with our TPI founding fathers, failure is not an option. I take great confidence in their successful efforts that got us to this Centennial and know that Tennessee Tech will continue to survive and thrive for many generations to come.
Whether you have been a part of the university for decades, years, or months, the more you learn about the people whose passion helped shaped this place, the more you will understand it and feel a part of it. At our Centennial website, you will find a wealth of personal stories and information. It’s possible you’ll find a connection with a personality, educational philosophy or event that reminds you that our mission remains to create knowledge and provide educational access and opportunity in a manner that improves people’s lives.
Here’s to making dreams come true for another 100 years!