More than six years ago, the University of Kentucky committed to a bold vision for its future. We asked ourselves what the promise of this place meant at that moment. We committed to think anew about how we invest in our campus, increase support for students, reward and retain our top talent, and foster an inclusive campus community. We set those priorities in an economy that was still reeling from a global recession, and we committed to doing what was right, even if it presented incredibly difficult challenges.
We found a way.
Today, the University is benefiting from a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure renewal, top students supported by more than twice the amount of institutionally funded financial aid, faculty and staff who are pushing new frontiers in teaching and research, a greater number of more complex, subspecialty patient cases, and a more diverse and inclusive campus community.
This Thanksgiving, as I reflect upon all that we’ve accomplished over the years, I’m humbled and inspired by the UK community.
As Kentucky’s indispensable institution, we transform the lives of our students and advance the Commonwealth we serve – and beyond – through our teaching and learning, diversity and inclusion, discovery, research and creativity, promotion of health, and deep community engagement.
Each iteration of that mission speaks to why we are here: to serve.
Last month, our Board of Trustees gathered to review progress on our Strategic Plan. This plan charts our path and outlines our priorities, as the University FOR Kentucky, for those we serve.
- Over the last academic year, our total enrollment surpassed 30,760 students.
- Among our first-year students are 119 National Merit Finalists, continuing our tradition as a top-choice for these outstanding scholars.
- During the last academic year, as we continued improving retention and graduation rates to record levels, we conferred more than 6,900 degrees to UK graduates who left our campus prepared for lives of meaning and purpose, and to successfully compete in a diverse, interdependent global economy.
As part of our focus on student in everything that we do, we emphasize four pillars of student success—academic success, financial stability, belonging/engagement, and wellness.
Our efforts in bolstering one of those pillars in particular – financial stability – is garnering national attention as part of an effort to dramatically accelerate student success levels through higher retention and graduation rates.
Through intensive study and analysis, we know that unmet financial need is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – obstacles to graduation.
UK’s research indicates, in fact, that with as much as $5,000 in unmet financial need, retention rates drop by 8 percent. A pilot project we conducted among 178 students this past fall indicates we can reverse those numbers with targeted investments that address unmet need.
Over the next few years, the UK LEADS initiative (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success) will shift more of our institutionally funded aid to address unmet need.
At the same time, immersive and experiential learning positions UK students to succeed beyond college. This effort includes the expanded and enhanced opportunities available through the new Lewis Honors College. Over the last several years, we’ve seen exponential growth in students interested in and positioned to succeed in a robust honors experience. With the support of Tom Lewis and his wife Jan, and the leadership of our inaugural dean, Dr. Christian Brady, the Lewis Honors College is poised to be a national leader in honors education.
In October, the University received a transformational $12 million gift from UK graduate and philanthropist Paul Chellgren and his wife Deborah Chellgren to support the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence. Like the Lewis Honors College, the Chellgren Center provides students with the opportunity for immersive learning through the Chellgren Fellows program and undergraduate research.
Our work is representative of the resolve UK has maintained throughout its history – a shared commitment to rise above challenges and to do what is right for the state we serve. Going forward, we must, in an important sense, renew the compact we have with those we serve to secure the future we want for Kentucky and the world.
This Thanksgiving season, I’d like to reiterate my gratitude to all members of the UK family. After all, it is our people who have enabled our success, nurtured our growth, and defined our role as the University FOR Kentucky.