For Phil Oldham, who became Tennessee Tech’s ninth president on July 1, 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.
With the recent development of a faculty-led strategic plan, Oldham sees a turning point for Tech.
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 55 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 more than $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 separate 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.”
Oldham previously served as provost and senior vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Freed-Hardeman University and his doctorate in analytical chemistry from Texas A&M University. He spent a year following his graduate work as a Wellcome Research Fellow at Burroughs Wellcome Co. (Glaxo Smith-Kline) before joining the faculty at Mississippi State University. Oldham served as head of Mississippi State University’s chemistry department for five years prior to becoming dean of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Oldham additionally serves on the NCAA Presidential Forum for Division I athletics, the Tennessee Valley Corridor Board of Directors, and the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce board.
A major focus of his efforts is toward local and regional economic development. Over the last three years, approximately 4,000 new jobs have been created in Putnam County.
Along with his administrative accomplishments, Oldham has authored more than 35 peer reviewed research articles in analytical chemistry, along with two patents and approximately 100 conference presentations. His research has been financially supported by the National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey and private industry.
He has served on a number of scholarly editorial boards and as a peer reviewer for both the NSF and National Institutes of Health.
Oldham and his wife, Kari, are proud of their family, which includes three sons (Clay, Paden and Sam), a daughter (Audrey), two daughters-in-law (Rebecca and Amy) and one grandson (Charlie).