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WKU ‘turning a corner, beginning to see results’ as it begins implementation of 10-year strategic plan

Western Kentucky University is turning a corner and beginning to see results as it begins to implement its 10-year strategic plan, “Climbing to Greater Heights.”

That was the message delivered Monday by WKU President Timothy Caboni in his Convocation address to begin the 2019-20 academic year. The full text is available at www.wku.edu.

After two years of working hard to prepare for the next decade, “this year is about execution,” he said. “It’s about doing all of the small things that cumulatively move an organization. Practicing relentless incrementalism.”

Timothy Caboni

A re-conceptualized marketing approach and outreach, changes in financial aid and centralized advising that includes targeted interventions are parts of the strategic plan designed to help every student succeed. And the results include the most academically talented and prepared freshman class in WKU history for the fall of 2018, the largest graduating class in WKU history in the spring of 2019, and the reversal of a five-year downward retention trend that includes the second highest first-to-second year retention rate in WKU history, he said.

“Our successes are not because of any one thing we have done, but because of all the things we have done and all of your work,” Caboni told faculty and staff. “These are results we all should celebrate.”

But, he added, the work will continue. There are fewer students in Kentucky graduating from high school and an even smaller percentage of those graduates are pursuing postsecondary education. This year, more than 3,500 students who have applied to WKU will not seek any education past high school.

“That is not a recipe for economic success for our region,” he said. “We must demonstrate for our families and their students the lifelong value of a college degree and the economic benefit of attending and graduating from college.”

That is one of the reasons the university has shifted its focus from recruiting first-year students to recruiting future WKU graduates, Caboni said. “Our goal is not just to get them on our Hill for one semester or for one year. Our goal is to provide them with the full transformative experience, and that happens only when they complete their degree.”

Living, learning communities and collaborative spaces such as those planned in the First-Year Village and WKU Commons are important to giving students a greater sense of belonging, he said.

“One of the things that every WKU student needs to hear from us is this: that we have their backs. That our goal is for them to be successful. And that we are there for them,” Caboni said.

“We are going to challenge them; we are going to push them; and we are going to make sure their educational experience is the best that we can create. They also need to know that when they need support, when they need a helping hand, when they need someone, they have a place to turn.”

WKU will also continue evolving its program offerings that began with last year’s comprehensive review. Caboni said that in addition to the 15 programs identified for immediate investment and growth, there were 55 targeted for transformation to meet the needs of students, families, communities and the marketplace.

“You would be hard pressed to find another institution that took the leap to innovate in this way, and that is remarkably exciting for us as a community,” he said.

Caboni also cited the past two years as the best ever for fundraising at WKU at $45 million and $41 million.

“Not only are these fundraising achievements important to our efforts to advance WKU, to enhance the experience of our students, and to pursue strategic initiatives, private giving serves as an important metric because it provides an indicator of external confidence in what we do as a university,” he said.

Those efforts include raising more than $27 million and creating 72 new endowed scholarship funds as a part of the Opportunity Fund “to ensure every student who is interested in being a Hilltopper has the opportunity to do so,” he said.


The following award winners were recognized Monday:

Staff Awards

Alicia Pester, Administrative Professional Non-Faculty
Josiah Super, Administrative Support
Adam Blessinger, Skilled/Technical/Paraprofessional

Faculty Awards

Stacy Edds-Ellis, Part-time Teaching
Holli Drummond, Public Service
Carol Jordan, Student Advisement
Rachel Tinius, Research and Creativity
Melanie Austin, Teaching
Bruce Schulte, University Distinguished Professor

University Award

Fabian Alvarez, Spirit of WKU

From Western Kentucky University

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