LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 2, 2015) — It's only been a month since the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved a new five-year strategic plan.
But UK Provost Tim Tracy said that investments, new initiatives and plans already are being put in place, and many are starting to have an impact.
"We don't have time, nor do we have the inclination, to let grass grow under our feet," Tracy said of the imperative to move forward on key goals in the strategic plan. "We have made much progress in the last four years under the leadership of President Eli Capilouto. But we all acknowledge that there is still much work to do."
Perhaps the most ambitious of goals and initiatives revolve around undergraduate education and student success.
By 2020, the University of Kentucky aims to aggressively increase its six-year graduation rate to 70 percent — an increase of nearly 10 percent over recent figures. Retention rates as well, under the plan, would increase nearly 10 percent to 90 percent.
At the same time, the university wants to significantly close the achievement gap — retention and graduation rates — that exists between the general student population and students of color, first-generation students and students eligible for Pell grants.
Currently a 15 to 17 percent gap exists in the graduation rate between those students and the general student population. Under the proposed strategic plan, those gaps would be closed to less than10 percent by 2020.
--Undergraduate student success
--Diversity and Inclusivity
With respect to undergraduate education, Tracy said that some significant progress has been made in recent years already because of key investments in people and infrastructure.
In the last few years alone, the four-year graduation rate has moved from about 33 percent to more than 40 percent. This fall, UK's six-year graduation rate is the second highest in the institution's history at 61.3 percent; the retention rate — the percentage of first-year students returning for their second year — is at an all-time high of 82.7 percent.
Tracy said one of the key components of the progress being made is that faculty growth has continued, even as UK — like all universities — has faced significant economic hurdles with the global recession of 2008.
The number of faculty grew 12 percent — or an increase of 247 — between 2007 and 2014, Tracy said, keeping pace with student growth of about 13 percent. The percentage of instructional faculty who are full-time has remained consistent during that time period at about two-thirds of total faculty.
In fact, Tracy said, faculty growth has doubled the percentage growth in the overall staff levels, which increased by about 5 percent from 2007 to 2014.
At the administrative levels, to the extent that there has been growth, much of it has been focused on areas that generate their own revenues, such as UK HealthCare and UK Athletics. Much of the rest of the growth has been focused, Tracy said, on maximizing student success. For example, directors have been hired for Living/Learning Programs, which have expanded from 12 to 19 during Capilouto's tenure.
In terms of infrastructure, UK has completed or initiated more than $1.8 billion in new construction in the last four years, much of it focused on student success and living and learning environments.
Thousands of new beds in high-tech residence halls and millions of dollars in new dining facilities have been constructed.
The first phase of the $65 million Gatton College of Business and Economics expansion and renovation is completed, and the new Academic Science Building is scheduled for completion in August 2016. That facility is the product of a unique partnership with UK Athletics, which is funding $65 million of the $112 million construction project. A more than $175 million Student Center renovation and expansion is due for completion in early 2018.
Over the next few years UK will work quickly to better integrate student planning, advising and course registration to track student progress toward graduation.
That will include helping students map out courses over several terms as well as utilizing "improved predictive analytics" to track the progress of students and intervene early when necessary if a student is at academic risk. If students, for instance, take a minimum of 15 hours a semester, they can graduate within four years. Too many students, research shows, end up dropping classes because of work or other commitments, extending the period of time it takes them to graduate.
The university also plans to create a more systematic approach to helping students increase their financial literacy and wellness, as debt and financial issues often are large barriers to graduation.
In this initiative, the university will move quickly to create and hire a financial wellness specialist position and develop programs and workshops to help students.
"All great research universities have at their core a great undergraduate education experience," Tracy said. "We aim to be one of the best public, residential research universities in America. To do that, we must — and we will — invest in academic excellence by helping all of our students reach their potential and succeed."
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