President Eli Capilouto: Record budget demonstrates the power of relationships

Photo of campus
Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 20, 2023) — The following is University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto's report to the UK Board of Trustees on June 16, 2023.

Good morning. I hope our meetings this week have been informative and engaging.

As always, I have been inspired by your questions and your commitment to this place and our mission to advance Kentucky.

It is our last meeting of the fiscal year. And we are considering what is in so many ways a historic budget for this institution.

But beyond the sustained growth, I hope we never lose sight of what this institution means.

Tamara Vest could tell you what it means.

Tamara lost her father to the insidious disease of cancer at the age of 9.

Her mother was lost in the abyss of drug addiction shortly thereafter.

As a teen, she was in a foster home, facing an uncertain future. She saw up close, and in a deeply personal way, the lack of resources, and options, for foster kids.

But she decided hard knocks would not knock her down or hold her back.

Through a combination of her own steely resolve – as well as state financial programs, and assistance from UK -- she enrolled here and earned her degree in Social Work.

This May, she graduated with an online master’s degree – an experience, she said, that was great because of UK faculty who worked hard to keep her engaged as a student with the flexibility to meet her needs and goals.

Now, equipped with a toolkit of skills earned at UK, she works as a policy analyst in Louisville for Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Her goal: ensuring the 8,500 Kentucky children in out-of-home care – and 400,000 children nationally in the child welfare system – have options … the options we all want for Kentucky’s children … the options and possibilities we all want for our state so people like Tamara can reach their potential.

Her story – like so many others – underscores what the budget is all about.

Today, we formally ask for your approval of a record, $6.8 billion budget for the 2023-2024 year for the University of Kentucky.

It is one budget, on behalf of one indispensable institution whose singular focus is to advance this state – its health, its economy and its quality of life.

But it is a budget – that for all the array of numbers and percentages of growth; markers of progress and areas of investment – that represents most significantly the contributions, energies, time and talents of thousands of students and employees.

It is a budget that demonstrates the power of relationships – with partners in dining, housing, healing, finance and technology, which have allowed us to create even more options for our people and have taught us how to be even more creative in what we do and how we do it.

And it is, as always, a budget that is only possible through the support and investment of policymakers, who represent the people of this commonwealth.

Those state dollars – more than $300 million this year – are based on our performance in the past, but also the expectation that we will do more in the future. They are the essential first dollar in, which we leverage into the nearly $7 billion budget you have before you today.

These elected representatives of our fellow citizens believe in what we do, but without question, they also have high expectations for how we will perform and how we will be responsive to the needs of the state we, collectively, serve.

In that sense, the budget – a statement of purpose, policy and priorities -- also should signal that we understand deeply that what is before you is a promissory note – a challenge to us that we will deliver on the promise of this place.

The growth of our academic health care system – 300 percent larger than a decade ago and now approaching $4 billion in size and scope – represents one way we deliver.

Those numbers reflect the fact that we must grow to provide more patients than ever before with the advanced subspecialty care that only we offer in Kentucky.

It also reflects the idea that providing that care means finding ways to reach more people in addressing their primary and outpatient needs as well – both those who are part of the UK family as well as those who lack access among us.

The continued ascent of our institution academically – a 70 percent six-year graduation rate places us among the top universities in the country for student success and, remarkably, a five-year graduation rate that nearly matches that – translates into a more highly skilled workforce.

We are equipping them with the necessary tools and skills – not simply for today’s jobs, but those of tomorrow … those they will create … and those we have not yet even dreamed of.

We’ve done that, together, by holding down costs and expanding access and getting students through here at faster rates.

We have found new ways to eliminate the barriers of unmet financial need through nationally heralded and highly effective programs, like UK LEADS.

And we’ve sought to address the costs of those who come to us with the least economically or who are the first in their families to come to college.

A quarter of our Kentucky students come from families in which the median household income is under $25,000. They pay nothing in tuition and fees, and, in fact, they receive dollars back to apply to other needs.

Our continued growth as a research university is directly connected to the explicit and intentional focus we have made on the biggest issues: health, energy needs, discrimination and inequity and now the tantalizing opportunities to expand the economy through advanced manufacturing.

And without question, this budget supports our commitment to taking care of our people – through sustained compensation increases over the last decade (10 out of the last 11 years) for those who make our progress possible.

We have raised starting wages for UK employees to $15 an hour.

We have invested $30 million in compensation increases over the last two years alone while spending even more on their health insurance to hold down costs.

Now, we are expanding that focus to include how we benchmark minimum stipends for the graduate students who contribute so much to the teaching and research of this place.

And this coming year, we are raising starting wages to $12 an hour for students on Federal Work Study and in other areas on campus in jobs designed with the flexibility required for students to be successful in the classroom.

This budget is an example of promises made and promises kept – for people like Tamara, for policymakers, for students and families, for patients and communities and for all those we serve throughout the commonwealth.

But it also represents a challenge – a challenge to continue to fulfill our promise … a challenge to confront growing expectations and changing, sometimes skeptical, questions about what we do and how we do it.

We must engage the expectations and the questions with open hearts and minds.

Provost DiPaola earlier discussed with you the efforts we are making to better understand and grapple with Artificial Intelligence or AI.  I want to thank him for his leadership in this effort, which in some ways is  analogous to our approach to COVID – a contagion that could leap across the campus and world in seconds.

AI is even faster.

This generative technology, without question, heralds so much possibility to make our work more efficient, effective and productive.

Left unchecked, it also threatens to eliminate jobs and displace workers, spread misinformation or embed bias.

One, how do we harness its promise while grappling with its potential peril?

At the same time as technology disrupts the workforce, we are facing increasing demand for more professionals now who help provide healing.  Indeed, state policymakers are prioritizing the growth of the health care workforce.

With the support of this board and state lawmakers, we are building facilities to expand our capacity for the provision of care and to educate and train more nurses, physical therapists and public health professionals.

But that won’t happen quickly enough to meet all the needs of our state or even for our own academic medical system.

Two, how do we expand the pipeline – quickly but thoughtfully -- to meet those needs?

And we also must acknowledge that we are not isolated from the debates in our country and in our commonwealth over issues of diversity and inclusion, questions about how we keep our campus safe and even the prominence of values we consider fundamental to who we are, such as academic freedom and tenure.

On Monday, as a campus, we celebrate Juneteenth as an official university holiday. It is a day to remember and commemorate the official end of slavery in our country. It is an opportunity to pause, reflect, study, examine and interpret.

Project Unite is a Research Priority Area that involves disciplines across our campus to research and find answers to the historic inequities that still challenge us.

And thanks to one of UK’s historians – Dr. George Wright – and our commitment to listen and understand, we know more about Juneteenth and the connections that exist to our Commonwealth.

But rather than an end, in so many ways as we know, Juneteenth was the beginning of a struggle and debate that continues even unto this day about what constitutes the American Dream and how we are still reaching to realize its promise and potential for everyone.

Three, how do we – now and in the months ahead -- talk and work with policymakers, who are our partners, about the connections between inclusion and innovation … the critical importance of autonomy in making decisions about safety and well-being … and the essentiality of protecting and promoting freedoms of expression and debate along with broad scholarly inquiry?

Even as we take pride in our accomplishments together and our plans to do even more in the future, we cannot be satisfied that we are done.

We have more to do.

I am confident, with your leadership and support, and with the continued compassion and commitment of our people and our community, that we can meet this moment as long as we remain focused on the mission that has guided our path for nearly 160 years: to advance Kentucky in all that we do.

I am looking forward to this work and what we will do together in the coming year to realize our promise.