Building Kentucky's Workforce

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Last week, 50 representatives with Greater Louisville, Inc. traveled to our campus to bridge a strong connection between their effort in developing Louisville’s workforce and our graduates.

They are working on behalf of their community to recruit more of our graduates to the Louisville area; further connecting our cities and region, and adding to the more than 35,000 UK alumni already in the region.

They recognize what the data clearly shows—that education is the surest pathway to success in a knowledge-based economy.

We know, according to information collected by the National Association of College and University Business Officers:

  • There is a roughly $1 million difference between high school and college graduates in lifetime earning potential.
  • The average unemployment rate for college graduates is half that of those who hold only a high school degree.
  • And of the 11.6 million jobs created after the Great Recession, 11.5 million jobs went to workers with at least some college education.

These numbers tell an important story, and we know that competition for talent is increasing and the need for education and skills grows with it.

Louisville knows this fact all too well. According to Louisville Forward, there are 8,000 to 10,000 vacant jobs waiting for a highly-qualified person with a college degree and the right skillsets... A trend we see across the country.

Graduates today, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, “will have to ‘invent’ a job … and, given the pace of change today, even reinvent, re-engineer, and reimagine that job.”

And that’s the differentiated and distinctive approach we take in shaping the academic experience at the University of Kentucky.

At UK, we are focused on producing graduates who can help create, grow, and sustain a dynamic economy.

UK is engaged in a strategic effort to transform itself through investment in facilities, infrastructure, and student success in a way that directly responds to Kentucky’s needs.

Since 2011, we’ve invested some $2.3 billion in our campus to improve student success, instruction, research and discovery, quality of life, and health care.

Less than 10 percent of this investment was provided by the state. The remainder was made possible through philanthropy – including many supporters and friends in the audience this afternoon – private development partners like EdR and Aramark, conservative financial management, and a rare partnership with UK Athletics, which provided $65 million for a new science building.

Even while we’re building, rating agencies recognize UK as a good investment. Our investment has led both S&P and Moody’s to give UK a positive fiscal outlook, including a credit rating bump last year.

At the start of this semester, we will have opened 14 new residence halls in the last six years. This rapid growth is made possible by EdR’s 100 percent equity investment in our partnership.

Why are we investing in housing? To expand our capacity and support for students in 21st century living learning communities. We know that students succeed at higher rates when they live on campus, and we want to make that a reality for more of our students.

Through our housing partnership alone, $285 million has been expended with Kentucky companies. These expenditures are in addition to the $3.7 billion UK’s entire academic, research, and health care enterprise has spent with Kentucky vendors in the last six years. 

Housing is not the only area in which we’ve invested. We recently opened a new $65 million Gatton College of Business and Economics with the support of several people in this room, a new $112 million Jacobs Academic Science Building, a new $15 million home for the School of Art and Visual Studies, more than $40 million for a reimagined College of Law, and another $200 million for a transformed Student Center.

Why do we do this? To help our students get a high-quality and distinctive educational experience – a value-add experience that more students from Kentucky and beyond our borders are recognizing.

Our enrollment now exceeds 30,700 students, including 540 National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Finalists since 2011 – among the highest in the country.

Embedded in this education is the profoundly important idea that our students gain the technical capacity required to do the work, but also the communications, critical thinking, and cultural competency skills required to thrive in the work place.

We’ve increased the number of graduates leaving UK with STEM and Health-related degrees by 22% in the last six years, and we are committed to working together with the business community—and with organizations like GLI—to retain them in Kentucky.

It's one of the many reasons for which I proudly say that we are the University for Kentucky. It's why we exist. It's why we were founded more than 150 years ago. And Kentucky's future is what continues to guide us.