When I joined the University of Kentucky family seven years ago, I remarked that in my first anonymous visit to this special community with Mary Lynne, I “felt in a meaningful and lasting manner its defining character -- what I feel is the soul of the University of Kentucky.”
I could see it in the staff who greeted us with warmth and open arms. We sensed it in the energy and intellectual vitality of faculty, whose work continues to mesmerize us with its depth and commitment to the Commonwealth’s challenges. And we saw it clearly in the energetic eyes and boundless curiosity of students, who serve as our purpose and north star for all that we do.
“This place,” I said then, “is truly remarkable.”
My sense of what this place is, and how remarkable a community we are, has only grown.
At the University of Kentucky, we are proof that the promise – our promise – grows more vital and vibrant each day and each year. With dogged determination and unerring goodwill, we are transforming lives and communities across our state and world. It’s a mix of humbleness and hard work that makes us uniquely, distinctly, the University of Kentucky.
Enveloped in that sense of promise and potential, consider a sampling of what we have done this year and what we believe is yet to come:
- UK was designated a Diversity Champion by Insight Into Diversity Magazine, exemplifying an unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion in everything that we do.
- We achieved record graduation rates and initiated new efforts to ensure that finances are not an impediment to an outstanding UK education.
- Thanks to the generosity of Tom Lewis, who provided $23 million to the college that bears his name, the Lewis Honors College is poised to be a national leader in honors education.
- We continued our top ranking among public universities for National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Scholars.
- We completed a $450 million transformation of our student housing, places where living and learning is taking place in creative communities across the campus.
- As part of a $2.3 billion campus transformation, we opened the doors to our $201 million Gatton Student Center, the vibrant living room of our campus.
- We expanded our research portfolio as reflected in the eight percent increase in research expenditures totalling $378 million for FY 2016-17, as compared to the prior fiscal year.
- This summer, we will open a $265 million multi-disciplinary research building focused on finding answers to Kentucky’s most pressing questions.
- We treated a record number of patients at UK HealthCare with the most advanced care at a hospital ranked once again as the best in Kentucky.
- We continued our work, in partnership, to develop two regional medical campuses addressing Kentucky’s shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas.
But we’re not satisfied. We know that there are more minds to inspire, more communities to heal, more discoveries to unveil, and more lives to transform. The $3.9 billion operating and capital budget builds upon our progress. It aligns with our Strategic Plan priorities: access and affordability for students; competitive compensation for our faculty and staff; academic excellence; and belonging for all who call this special place home.
Highlights that underscore our priorities include:
- A tuition and mandatory fees increase for resident students that at 2.5 percent is the smallest in more than 20 years. This drops the four-year average of increases to 3.5 percent, down from double-digits in 2008.
- Fueled by the UK LEADS program, in-state students coming to the University from families with a median income of less than $20,000 annually have seen their net out-of-pocket cost decrease over the last two years – from $465 per semester to $204 per semester.
- Guided by our continuing effort to reward and retain faculty and staff for strong performance in their work, the budget includes a 1.5 percent salary increase, the sixth year in a row of pay increases. UK HealthCare is considering compensation increases in line with its budget cycle, which begins in October.
- Debt service as a percentage of our $3.9 billion budget represents only 2.8 percent, reflecting our strong financial position and stewardship of resources.
This fall, we expect to welcome more than 5,100 first-year students – an increase of some 300. Our early analysis indicates that retention rates will approach 85 percent and graduation rates will rise to nearly 65 percent – both record highs and milestones that reflect our deep commitment to student success.
Our hospital continues to grow, treating more patients with more complex illnesses than ever before. Our research enterprise is expanding too, focusing more intently on the Commonwealth’s most daunting challenges.
This year, I charged Provost Blackwell and Executive Vice President Monday with leading several teams of administrators, faculty, staff, and students to plan a long-term financial path for the University of Kentucky. The “Our Path Forward” initiative represents our intention to take even greater control of our future by thoughtfully examining how we seek new areas of growth and opportunity, while operating more efficiently.
United by a vision for who we are and what we can do together, I am energized and optimistic for our future. We are Kentucky’s university – the university built for the Commonwealth. Together, we are creating and sustaining a community of belonging, of hope, and of progress.