Transforming Academic Excellence

Last Friday, I wrote to our community about an important step in our shared commitment to students. A reorganization of the five units that constitute our commitment to academic excellence will embolden and animate our vision to foster a transformational educational experience for all students.

UK is — and must be — a community that promotes self-discovery, experiential learning, and life-long achievement.

Under the leadership of President Capilouto and our Board of Trustees, we are charting an ambitious course to become one of the country’s leading public, residential research universities. Our Strategic Plan — adopted by the board last October — reflects a core principle: putting students first in everything we do.

In doing so, it envisions retention rates of 90 percent, graduation rates at 70 percent, and a significant closure of the gap in retention and graduation rates that exist for underrepresented student populations.

We have made great progress in these areas over the past several years; however, to spark the dramatic improvements that we seek, to make a dramatic impact on the students we serve, we must make dramatic change now.

This process of refocus will take several months,  and I know that can create some sense of uncertainty, but working together, I'm confident we can create an organization focused intently on what matters most. And that is an exciting notion. 

We have the opportunity to make real, consequential and meaningful change: change that benefits the lives we’re charged to serve.

Last year, our first- to second- year retention rate was 82.7 percent—our largest number of returning students at 4,253. That represented roughly 463 additional students since the same time the previous fall.

Think about what that means.

463 more students continuing their path to a degree.

463 potential graduates who can serve our state.

463 lives and families impacted by continuing education.

This is at the heart of our efforts. We must continue to build upon our momentum, because these figures are not simply numbers. They represent the lives we’re called to serve.

We’re building our capacity to serve them as best we can.

Today, we have too many islands of effort, where instead we need a seamless and integrated organizational structure among all our units in support of students and their success.

We must create an organization that allocates every available resource toward directly supporting enhanced student success and academic excellence through innovative teaching and learning, and enrichment experiences.

We must invest more in advising and front-line student support, such as counseling, by eliminating administrative bureaucracy and providing more professional development and career advancement opportunities for advisors.

To do so, we will take critical services in what is today Undergraduate Education and merge them into the colleges and Student Affairs, where they can more directly support student success. We’ll also blend the services of Student Affairs directly into academic programming.

Between now and August 15, we will create this process and develop a plan for investing more in front-line student support, as we prepare for the next group of first-year students.

Later this week, members of my team and I will be travelling to North Carolina State University to meet with a member of the UK family, Mike Mullen. Mike, vice chancellor and dean of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, who previously served as UK associate provost for Undergraduate Education. He and his team have engaged in a similar realignment of these crucial areas at his new institution.

This month, we’ll also visit UT Knoxville, another institution that has made significant strides in retention and graduation rates through enhanced student support. We will use their experience and expertise to complement efforts on our campus.

We are committed to continuing a dialogue with the campus, as we work through these changes together. To that end, we’ve created a website that will be continuously updated as we receive questions from the community.

Thank you for everything you do each day on behalf of the students we serve.