Home Education OP-ED: Rethinking how we rebuild, advance Kentucky

OP-ED: Rethinking how we rebuild, advance Kentucky

Downey Eye Clinic

I recently toured parts of western Kentucky that were impacted by the December tornadoes.

In Caldwell County, I talked with farmers who, for decades, have relied on our expertise at Princeton Station. They are looking to us again.

In Graves County, I visited our extension offices that overnight were transformed into a headquarters for police, safety officials and others.

The unshakable commitment was everywhere to rebuild.

But I heard the recognition that we will need to rethink as well – to consider how farms, businesses and communities are rebuilt and renewed.

New skills are needed to compete in a 21st century economy that is more automated and requires more education than ever before. How will we ensure Kentucky has a workforce that successfully competes for those jobs and creates more of them?

A pandemic has exposed fissures and fractures in a health care system where outcomes remain unequal. How do we expand service to more medically underserved areas and increase access for those who need that care the most?

That effort – a laser-like focus on advancing Kentucky – is the primary focus of our recently adopted strategic plan, what we are calling the UK PURPOSE.

Longstanding challenges will require new strategies and approaches on our part. And we must be willing to question – not our mission – but how we make that mission real and relevant today and tomorrow.

We have made progress – working with committed donors and strategically tying budgets to priorities – to lower barriers to access for our students and to address our most pressing health challenges.

At our most recent meeting of our Board of Trustees, we discussed more than $30 million in recent gifts that are focused squarely on these issues of workforce, support for student learning and success and access to advanced health care that are so critical to our state’s future.

Since 2013 alone, we’ve raised more than $170 million for student scholarships. More than $17 million has been raised for our innovative LEADS program, which targets students’ unmet financial need.

The support is critical because the need is so real – 25-30% of our undergraduate students are first generation students; 80% of them are from Kentucky.

It’s still early in the legislative process, but the budget proposals being considered for higher education address the same concerns and opportunities – performance funding to build a more skilled workforce, dollars to hire outstanding faculty to increase research and capital investments that we would, in part, match to support all those efforts.

There is no replacing the state support that policymakers and taxpayers provide as the fuel for the engine that powers our efforts.

We must leverage those investments for even greater impact.

We do that by tying the dollars from our donors – and their vision – into the students and strategies that will advance Kentucky – a state that is healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Downey Eye Clinic
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Eli Capilouto is the 12th president of the University of Kentucky.