Last weekend, fans around the country tuned into the first round of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments to cheer on their favorite teams. Our women’s squad played valiantly, but were unable to come out on top against Ohio State University, ending a season defined by their perseverance. Our men’s team advanced to the Sweet 16, overcoming tough games against Northern Kentucky University and Wichita State University.
To be sure, it was a weekend that reminds us of the excitement of college athletics and the dynamic it creates for a university, its alumni family, and broader fan base.
Before the first tournament game, Inside Higher Ed praised the NCAA for including academic performance in the NCAA’s calculation for allocating multimedia revenue generated during the tournament. Included in the article was the online periodical’s traditional tournament bracket that matches teams and determines the national champion based on an athletic program’s Academic Performance Rate, a measure of our student-athletes’ classroom performance.
We’re proud to see that our student-athletes – based on their classroom performance – face Bucknell University in the National Championship. Their academic success is driven by UK Athletics’ 15x15x15 plan established in 2008, which included a goal to reach a 3.0 composite grade-point average for all student-athletes. The department has now maintained the accolade for nine consecutive semesters. Doubling down on past success, the athletics department is working toward higher achievement as part of the Elite 1-3-5 plan, which challenges each UK team to win a conference or national championship, continue the department-wide 3.0 GPA, and rank among the top 5 athletics departments in the country by 2022.
Similarly, with an enduring focus on academic excellence, the University’s strategic plan calls us to increase first-to-second year retention to 90 percent and the six-year graduation rate to 70 percent. The investments we’ve made in academic excellence, institutional aid, and student services will help all UK students to “go pro” in their chosen field.
The success of UK’s Wildcat community illustrates our shared commitment to helping students achieve their aspiration of a college degree. That level of commitment is manifest across our campus in powerful ways.
UK Athletics supports some 500 student-athletes, staff, tutors, advisors, and other athletic teams like track and field, golf, baseball, and gymnastics, to name a few. It also directs funds back to the University to support academic scholarships like Singletary Scholarships.
Additionally, over the next few years, UK Athletics is committed to drawing down its reliance on the state’s smallest student athletic fee, which is currently less than 1 percent of UK Athletics’ overall budget. Instead, that fee will support the Office of Institutional Diversity and a grant program that student organizations can use to host campus programs and events.
Last year, in what we believe is among the largest collaborations in the NCAA, UK Athletics provided $65 million toward the construction of the new Jacobs Science Building, which is now providing a state-of-the-art science education for our students. Part of the building is currently shelled for research space, so that as we recruit new research teams to campus, they’ll be able to occupy modern lab space to advance scientific understanding. With their support, UK Athletics isn’t just recruiting the next All-American, Olympic medalist, or pro-athlete. The Jacobs Science Building allows us to recruit top students, teach at the leading edge of science education, and bring world-class scientists together to conduct research that addresses Kentucky questions.
We believe that UK Athletics’ support – and what they’ve done to support the academic mission on our campus – is an exemplar of the effective partnership between a university and its athletics program. UK Athletics introduces prospective students to our campus and is a connection for alumni and friends when their time as students comes to a close. They return for UK games and see the progress we are making across a host of benchmarks and measures.
And, while we are the runner-up in Inside Higher Ed’s competition, we’ll be cheering for the team as they march toward a national championship. Together, we are the University for Kentucky.
Tim Tracy, Provost
Mitch Barnhart, Athletics Director