Campus News

UK LEADS Receives National Award for Contributions to Undergraduate Education

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Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 21, 2021) At the University of Kentucky we put the success of our students at the center of all we do by pioneering innovative ways to help them cross the commencement stage and go on to become leaders in their fields.

Now, a program supporting that mission is receiving national recognition for its notable contributions to undergraduate education.

UK LEADS is one of three recipients of the EDGE Commendation for Innovation in Undergraduate Education. The highly competitive award, given annually, honors a small cohort of individuals and institutions who are on the leading “EDGE” of undergraduate education.

“As Kentucky’s university, we must open wider the doors of access and possibility to students — the future of our state and world,” UK President Eli Capilouto said. “The UK LEADS program reflects our commitment to put students first in everything we do, demonstrated through our efforts reduce to unmet financial need among UK students.”

For many students, financial need is the most challenging obstacle to staying in school and achieving their goals.

UK is determined to do something about it. 

Through an extensive review of internal data, UK discovered that one-third of students who left the university had GPAs of 3.0 of higher. Additionally, the persistence rates of students with $5,000 or more in unmet financial need was significantly lower than students with less unmet need — regardless of academic skill.

The LEADS program (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success) has expanded the boundaries of what is possible by using data-driven analytics to better understand the impact of unmet financial need on student success.

Launched in 2016 as a pilot program, the LEADS initiative uses a predictive model to guide UK’s approach to scholarships by placing a greater emphasis on the recruitment of high need in-state students.

Using this data informed approach, the program has targeted students whose only barrier to success is financial, distributing more than 6,000 annual awards and in excess of $30 million in institutional and donor provided funds.

And it’s working — resulting in more students returning year after year and making progress on their degrees.

In fact, UK has achieved record second fall retention rates four of the past five years (including preliminary data for the current year) and has been at 86% for the past two years. Similarly, gains have been made in six-year graduation rates. UK has seen records four of the past five years and has a preliminary rate of 68% for the current year.

That’s more students — more Kentuckians — equipping themselves with credentials that will positively impact their futures.

“For six years, the UK LEADS program has proven to be a game-changer for many students whose only barrier to success at our institution is financial aid,” Kirsten Turner, vice president for student success, said. “Supporting these students brightens hundreds of individual futures each year, while also contributing to greater success for the Commonwealth and beyond.”

The EDGE awards will be conferred on Oct. 22 at the Edgerton Salute: A National Convening for Recognition of Undergraduate Innovators.

About Russ Edgerton

The EDGE awards are given annually by the John N. Gardner Institute to recognize the professional life of Russ Edgerton, former president of the American Association for Higher Education and senior program officer for the PEW Charitable Trusts. As a higher education leader, his contribution to undergraduate education reform still benefits countless institutions and the students they serve.

“As the co-founder of one of the many organizations and initiatives that Russ Edgerton conceived of 22 years ago, it has been truly inspirational to have the opportunity to serve on this award selection committee with other friends and mentees of Russ Edgerton to seek out and honor and now disseminate the kind of undergraduate education innovative improvement initiatives that are exactly the kinds of efforts that Russ worked so hard to conceive and inspire,” said John Gardner, founder and executive chair of the institute.

More information about Edgerton, and the national convening, can be found at www.jngi.org.

About the John N. Gardner Institute 

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is a nonprofit organization dedicated to partnering with colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations and educators, among other entities, to increase institutional responsibility for improving outcomes associated with teaching, learning, retention and completion.

The institute strives to advance higher education’s larger goal of achieving equity and social justice. Specific focus is given to helping institutions develop and implement strategic action plans for first-year, second-year and/or transfer student success; improving teaching, learning and success in gateway courses; and conducting professional development focused on advancing educational excellence.

For more information about the Gardner Institute, visit www.jngi.org.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.