KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Arabella Sarver grew up in East Tennessee, and so when she walked across the stage for her high school graduation, she dreamed of attending the University of Tennessee.
"It was the only place I applied to, got admitted. I was so ready for this," she said. "I never thought it would be this hard to get an education."
She said that after finishing her semester, she is leaving the school and enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. She said she wasn't picked in the university's raffle system for housing, and she couldn't afford the rent prices in Knoxville — if she could even find a place to live.
"First-generation, working class does not have thousands to fall back on," she said. "I have had many people reach out to me who want to go to UT and my number-one response to them has been, 'Don't go here.'"
Around ten years ago, UT received around 17,000 applications. That number climbed to around 49,000 applications this year. They called it their "most competitive pool" in UT history.
A group of students also organized a rally in February, urging UT leaders to be more cognizant of the school's growth after they released a ten-year master plan.
There are several plans to redesign or demolish existing buildings in order to replace facilities, including plans to demolish Dunford, Greve and Henson Halls to expand the Haslam College of Business.
The plan also found that UT needs 5,000 new or replaced beds through 2031 to keep pace with its growing housing demand.
It also plans to create interdisciplinary hubs across campus, where facilities are shared by programs. They also plan to create "student life clusters," including one in South Knoxville across a proposed pedestrian walkway over the Tennessee River.
"I ship out May 15. It felt good to be wanted by an organization — not just for my talents, but for me. And also to have things, like a roof over my head and food provided, which obviously makes an education a lot easier to obtain," she said.
The mother of another student at UT, Tina Sexton, said experienced similar hardships trying to find housing for school.
"Freshman students were in line, waiting in line for hours at these apartment complexes just to put in an application. It just boggles my mind," said Sexton.
Her daughter lives around 40 minutes away from campus and is on the housing waitlist. She said there are around 1,300 students on that waitlist, hoping for a chance to have a place to live. Her daughter was about the 800th student to get in line.
She also said her daughter could not afford an apartment off-campus, with rent prices of around $1,300 per month.
"She's not going to struggle as much as a lot of the other students that are waiting. You've got out-of-state students who don't know what they are going to do in the fall," said Sexton.