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March: Understanding Tomorrow-- A Research Report on Trends in Higher Education and Their Impact on UK

President Capilouto and Provost Riordan issued the following email to the UK campus on Friday, March 7, 2014. 



Dear colleagues and students,  


For the last several weeks, six work groups -- comprised of more than 100 scholars, students and staff -- have been diligently working on the development of UK's new six-year strategic plan: "see tomorrow. The University of Kentucky Strategic Plan." 


An important first step in that process has been examining trends impacting both our university and all of higher education. An initial report -- titled, "Understanding Tomorrow: A Research Report on Trends in Higher Education and Their Impact on UK" -- is available for your review and, we hope, your thoughts and feedback. Please click here to view the report.


In addition to surveying a robust set of academic and popular literature, our strategic plan teams also conducted focus groups with Deans and faculty leaders in compiling this more than 100-page overview. After you review the report, we hope you will email us thoughts and questions at


It's important to note what this report is and, as importantly, what it is not. The review is not the strategic plan itself. A great deal of work has been done by these thoughtful and committed work groups. But there is much more work still to do between now and June when we take the plan to the Board of Trustees for its consideration. 


However, the report is a broad overview of some of the important trends -- including both daunting challenges and some compelling opportunities -- we are facing and that institutions like us across the country are grappling with as well. In summary, the report identifies nine broad themes or trends impacting our work together. They are: 


1.    Changing Finances and Sustainability of Funding Sources: as traditional sources of support at the state and federal levels have declined, other revenues -- from tuition, private giving, among others -- have taken on more importance.


2.    Redefining the Purpose of Public Higher Education: Against that backdrop of changing financial support, many in the academy -- and outside of it -- are asking tough questions about the purpose of higher education.


3.    Greater Accountability: All of us in higher education are being scrutinized more closely. Do we deliver on our promises? Are we doing enough to graduate students, while minimizing the debt they incur?


4.    Increased Use of Technology: Technology holds great promise -- in research, in teaching and outreach to students and those we serve. But how do we maximize its impact in a positive way, without compromising the level of quality we expect in all that we do?


5.    Increased Internationalization: We live -- and our students compete -- in an increasingly complex global and interdependent economy. The numbers of international students we serve and educate have grown significantly in recent years.


6.    Changing Undergraduate Population and Curriculum: Some populations of students are growing; others are declining in terms of the numbers who attend institutions of higher learning. What do those changing demographics mean for how we teach and serve and the access and affordability we offer?


7.    Challenges in Graduate EducationPh.D., Master’s, and Professional Degrees: The demand for some degree programs is growing at a rapid rate; for others it is declining. How should those changing dynamics influence our strategies in providing the highest-quality possible of graduate and professional programs on a campus that prides itself for its depth and breadth?


8.    Changes in Research Funding: The largest source of research funding for UK and other institutions -- federal dollars -- has been flat or declining in recent years. We hope that is stabilizing and poised once again to grow. But regardless, how do we ensure that we maximize research funding and create programs and research initiatives responsive to both that funding climate and the needs of our Commonwealth?


9.    The Changing Professoriate: As is true across higher education, our faculty population is aging. What strategies should we develop going forward to address the changing dynamics in ways that honor our mission of education, research and service as a flagship, land-grant institution? 


One thing you will notice as you review the report, concrete declarations of fact and paths forward are not offered, nor should they be. Any strategies for our future, though, should include a robust examination of where we've been and where we are today -- all in the context of how UK fits into the major trends, challenges and opportunities confronting all of higher education. 


That's what this report provides -- valuable context and background as we move forward with the process of determining how we see tomorrow for UK and all those we serve. In the coming weeks, we will be identifying and reporting back to you on areas of potential distinction for our institution as well as ways that we might fund our efforts and measure our progress. We want to thank these teams of committed UK scholars, students and staff, who have put so much of themselves already into the development of our new strategic plan. They are devoting countless hours to this critically important endeavor. We are confident their work -- and their collaboration with so many of you across this campus -- will yield a compelling roadmap for our next six years of work together. 


Thank you,


President Eli Capilouto          Provost Christine Riordan 

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