A Powerful Message About Student Success and the Workforce We're Building for Kentucky

Photo of student in front of student center

The following op-ed appeared in several regional newspapers.

Consider this economic fact: A recent national study from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce concluded that 95 percent of jobs created in the recovery of the last 10 years went to applicants with some college experience.

In other words, a college education — some training and development beyond high school — has never been more important.

The challenge — and the opportunity — for those of us in higher education is ensuring college is accessible, affordable and equips students to be critical thinkers who are workforce ready.

To that end, the $3.9 billion budget we recently adopted at the University of Kentucky for the next year revolves around a few key principles:

Keep the rate of increase for tuition and fees down to ensure affordability.

Do more to ensure access for those with the most financial need in our state.

Help students graduate on time and with no or a limited amount of debt so they can join and help lead Kentucky’s workforce.

Continue our work in research, health care and service to address the commonwealth’s biggest issues.

This budget honors those principles, in alignment with our strategic plan, in the following ways:

First, led by our Board of Trustees, we adopted a 2.5 percent increase in tuition and mandatory fees for 2018-2019 — the smallest increase in more than two decades. In 2019-2020, we are planning for a 2.4 percent increase — the smallest successive increases in more than three decades.

Second, we eliminated the fee students pay for athletics, making us one of a handful of universities in the country to do so. As a result, mandatory fees this coming year are actually decreasing for students.

Third, we are investing more than $130 million in scholarships and aid that do not have to be repaid. And we are continuing to award scholarships and aid to academically qualified students who also have unmet financial need. We know from extensive research that students with as little as $5,000 in unmet need are much less likely to return to school, irrespective of academic standing.

Fueled by a new initiative that is drawing national attention — UK’s Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success (UK LEADS) program — students from Kentucky families with a median income of less than $20,000 annually have seen their net out-of-pocket cost for tuition and mandatory fees decrease from $465 per semester to $204 per semester.

The result of these efforts: Our graduation rate and retention rate — the success of students returning from one year to the next — are now at record highs and are highest among public universities in Kentucky. Those increases are being propelled by our efforts to assist students and families with financial need.

Fourth, critical to student success is an outstanding faculty and staff. That’s why, even in the midst of a tight budget, we are including a 1.5 percent salary increase for faculty and staff — the sixth straight year employees have received pay raises. Rewarding our people helps retain and grow talent and adds to the tax base for our local and state economy.

We’re not done. We plan to grow our enrollment, offering more students access to education at what we believe is one of the best universities in the country.

We believe we need to expand professional and master’s degree programs in demand from the private sector.

We know more students need to access a UK education online, whether it’s an MBA, an education degree or programs in continually in-demand areas of health care.

And we understand that several thousand Kentuckians are only a few hours shy of completing their degrees with us. We can — and we will — help more of them return and finish, so that they can take the next step up the economic ladder.

More students, more degrees and more success mean more opportunity and growth for Kentucky.

Our budget underscores our momentum and progress. But, too, it sends a powerful message about the importance of student success and the workforce we seek to create for the commonwealth.

We are an institution with momentum. We are proud of that. But we are not satisfied.

We have more work to do; we always will. We have to prove ourselves every day, but we are committed to the journey.

Even in the face of unrelenting financial headwinds, we are proving that we are the University for Kentucky.