Online Programs Extend UK's Land-Grant Mission

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Under the leadership of President Capilouto and our Board of Trustees, we are asking ourselves what it means to be Kentucky’s land-grant institution in the 21st century.

The spirit of the Morill Act of 1862—the legislation that established land-grant universities—was rooted in the notion of expanding opportunity: of opening doors to agricultural and industrial workers for whom, at the time, higher education was an unattainable dream.  

That history still shapes us today.

It guides our vision as the Commonwealth’s university and fuels our belief in what Kentucky can do.

We educate more than 30,000 students at the University of Kentucky.

At the same time, we are investing more than ever before in scholarships and financial aid that remove barriers to those students earning their degrees. In the last six years alone, we have more than doubled scholarships, and we have started a nationally recognized program to address unmet financial need – UK LEADS.

But our mission does not stop there.

We will confer more than 7,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees this academic year. What would it mean for Kentucky if that number were 10,000?

Can we, as Kentucky’s land-grant institution, continue to open doors wider to more Kentuckians seeking credentials that would improve their lives? Our history provides us with a compelling answer. We know that Kentucky can build a more skilled workforce, prepared to uplift more communities.

One way we plan to forge this future is through expanded online programs.

Leveraging the talents of our world-class faculty, we are building online programs that meet the needs of new student populations and Kentucky’s workforce.

These programs also expand our institutional footprint. While UK is already present in all 120 Kentucky counties through Cooperative Extension, an expanded online presence will allow more Kentuckians, irrespective of where they live, an opportunity to earn a UK degree.

More online programs also allow us to reach students who have earned some college credit, at UK or another institution, but, for whatever reason, never fulfilled their requirements for a degree.

We have already identified more than 1,000 former students with more than 120 credits from the UK College of Arts and Sciences who left the institution without completing a degree. These individuals, in some cases, may be just a few classes away from fulfilling those requirements.

Our vision for UK Online is one that leverages the creative, collaborative potential of technology to connect our outstanding faculty to students throughout Kentucky and beyond.

And we are committed to doing that the right way.

Faculty are leading our efforts to design UK online programs and translate the innovative research, teaching, and learning that they provide in the traditional classroom into a new venue. They are thinking through creative ways to leverage technology and facilitate learning in new, compelling ways.

Our instructors are also working with experts in our Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching to maximize innovative technology and pedagogy to create the best possible online learning environments.

Much of this work is being led by our Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Academic Innovation Kathi Kern, who, underscoring the importance of these efforts, recently described this expansion to our Board of Trustees.

You can learn more about her perspective in this Q&A.

The initial phase of the expansion prioritizes master's degrees, graduate certificates, and courses that allow students with existing UK credit to flexibly complete their undergraduate degrees.  We hope that we can reach adult students for whom the flexibility of an online degree will be appealing.

We want to increase access to UK to individuals who cannot necessarily receive this instruction on our campus, but for whom additional education and credentials will make a lasting difference in their lives.

You can learn more about UK Online here.

This expansion is about so much more than new technology. It’s about fulfilling our role as the Commonwealth’s institution.

It shapes our vision of our land-grant mission in the 21st century.

It underscores our belief in a brighter future for Kentucky.

It is part of how we show the world what Kentucky can do.