University of Kentucky - Top 20 Business Plan - Full Text of Purpose
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Purpose of the Top 20 Business Plan

Funkhouser Building
Funkhouser Building

I want to make clear what the Top 20 Business Plan is and what it is not. The Business Plan is designed to put in financial terms the Top 20 Compact the University of Kentucky and the Commonwealth agreed to in 1997. It is a statement of our specific needs for more resources. It is not a strategic plan.

The challenge we face is a Top 20 mandate that came to us without any definition or clear understanding of what it will cost. The first segment of our pursuit of Top 20 status, from 1997 until now, has been a time of enormous progress. Our students are stronger academically and our graduation rate is higher; our research agendas are more expansive and earning more external dollars; our annual giving and our endowment are up; and our reach into communities across Kentucky has never been greater.

Our faculty and staff have done a remarkable job of strengthening this institution, even though tight budgets have hampered us for much of the last eight years. We have lived year-to-year with whatever we get from Frankfort and whatever we are able to gather from other sources. We therefore have not managed our progress. Instead, we have been forced to react to the circumstances around us. Our faculty and staff have done that admirably.

But for the university as a whole, our work has not been planned or focused enough. A Top 20 university cannot be built through incremental budgets, short-term plans, and reaction to external forces. This approach has put at risk our academic ambitions for our students, the strength of our research agendas, and the reach of our impact on Kentucky.

The Business Plan Provides a Financial Foundation

The only way to escape reactive, circumstance-driven funding is to develop a financial plan that indicates clearly and specifically the long-term cost of achieving the Top 20 mandate. The Business Plan will describe the Top 20 Compact in financial terms. We will put that Plan on the table as we talk with the General Assembly and the Governor and our donors about what it is going to take for us to become a Top 20 university.

W.T. Young Library
W.T. Young Library

The time for that discussion is now. It has been eight years since the Compact was formed. We have used that time to assess our programs through the Top 20 Task Force and Futures Committee and we have made progress. We must now decide whether Kentucky is willing to do what it takes over the next several years to lay the financial and capital foundation necessary for our success. We need investments in our people - we need more faculty. We need investments in our infrastructure - we need modernized classrooms and more research space. And we need investments in our students - we need more dollars to continue to recruit and retain a top-quality, diverse student body and give them a world-class education and the academic support they need to be successful.

We are going to ask Kentuckians to invest in their flagship university as they never have before. I don't blame those of you who are skeptical. Skepticism is a product of experience. And the recent period of lean budgets make it hard to have confidence in our chances. But if we do not put a specific statement of cost in front of the Governor and the members of the General Assembly, we cannot blame them for not giving us the resources we need. The Business Plan will make clear the cost of the ambitious goal the General Assembly gave us in 1997.

When we do this, legislators will be right to ask specific questions about what Kentucky will get in return for their investments. The Plan will provide some guideposts of progress that resonate with the legislature and the general public - graduation rates, research dollars earned, community engagement, and a few others.

The Role of the Strategic Plan

Patterson Office Tower
Patterson Office Tower

The Business Plan is a financial, rather than strategic, document. Once we have the financial framework, we can begin the hard work of plotting our strategy for the next 15 years. The next Strategic Plan (for 2006-2009) will define specific measures of quality, establish strategic goals for excellence, and direct the allocation of resources across campus. Those decisions must - and will - be made by the campus community and will appreciate the complexity and diversity of our colleges. After the Board of Trustees considers the Business Plan for approval in December, we will begin a series of internal conversations about the next Strategic Plan and how this institution moves forward. It is then that we will discuss as an academic community what our priorities and specific goals are, how we can best achieve those goals, and how resources will be allocated.

The discussions we will have after the December Board meeting will translate the Business Plan into a plan of action. It must be a dynamic, serious, and honest conversation about what kind of university we want to be. Make no mistake about it. This institution must change if we are going to succeed. A university wedded to the status quo in a dynamic world will fail. Just as we need to force a discussion with the state about our need for more resources, we must force the internal discussion about our priorities. And those priorities must ultimately find their core in the needs of the people of Kentucky and what its flagship university is uniquely qualified to provide.

Faculty Growth, Then Enrollment Growth

I am convinced enrollment growth is an essential component of the University of Kentucky's progress because it is what Kentucky needs from us. But we will first build the infrastructure necessary to accommodate increasing numbers of students. We have made a conscious effort to focus on improving the quality of the education our students receive. We will not jeopardize those efforts by growing too much too soon. It will do Kentucky little good if UK enrolls, retains, and graduates more students from an institution unable to provide high quality instruction because our classes are too big and our advising is too scarce.

The Business Plan will call for substantial increases in our faculty between now and 2020. It is essential that we front-load faculty growth before we increase our student enrollment. I anticipate that we will not increase the size of our first-year class for at least the next two years, after appropriate preparations have been made. I understand the strain that dramatic increases in enrollment have placed on our faculty and staff and on our physical plant. It is symptomatic of the fact that we have confronted reality rather than planned for and managed it. Tight budgets in Frankfort made it impossible to increase our faculty to keep pace with our student growth. Our student/faculty ratio has suffered and we are putting at risk the quality of the education our students receive.

The Business Plan will give us the opportunity to make the case in Frankfort for increasing our faculty size to both make up for the lack of increases over the last few years and to prepare for future enrollment increases. And it allows us to argue for more faculty before we take on more students. And we need to pay our faculty better. The Business Plan will call for aggressive efforts to make our faculty salaries more competitive.

Our Responsibility to Kentucky - More College Graduates

We must increase our enrollment, but this is not about bigger being better. We know that nearly all our benchmarks are bigger, giving them advantages of volume, particularly in research. But other statistics make a much more compelling case for growth. Only 21 percent of Kentuckians have a bachelor's degree or higher. The national average is 27.2 percent. The impact is predictable: Kentucky's median household income is $36,786. That is almost $8,000 below the national average. Our poverty rate is 3.5 percentage points above the national average. Twenty-four percent of Kentucky's children live in poverty.

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education estimates that by 2020, 32.1 percent of the U.S. population will have a bachelor's degree or higher. Especially in a knowledge economy, a state that allows its workforce to lag behind the national average in educational attainment is a state that willingly accepts economic failure. As Kentucky's flagship university and most expansive and comprehensive institution, UK has a moral obligation to shoulder a considerable portion of the work of increasing the percentage of our citizens with college degrees. We must answer the call to increase our enrollment because the strongest undergraduate education available in Kentucky should be available to more Kentuckians. How will we do it?

  • We will enroll more students from every Kentucky county because UK belongs to every part of the Commonwealth.
  • We will enroll more students of color because there is strength in difference and necessity in diversity.
  • We will enroll more students from every state across the U.S. and more countries across the globe, understanding the need to recruit more talented people to Kentucky and keep them in Kentucky.
Students studying
Some students studying

We will do everything we can to build the most diverse and most academically gifted student body in Kentucky. This will not be easy. We are a poor and under-educated state. We live in a culture that does not put enough value on a college education. The under-18 population in Kentucky is flattening. And we do not have enough jobs right now for the educated workforce we produce.

But for too long, Kentuckians have been gripped by a resigned and cynical acceptance of a vicious cycle. Low per capita incomes make it difficult to commit the resources we need to increase our education levels and improve our economy. But we will not have higher per capita incomes without more bachelor degree holders. Our struggles as a state to deal with our social, economic, and health problems will continue as long as we passively accept low levels of educational attainment as inevitable in Kentucky. It really is that simple.

We must commit ourselves to competing in the knowledge economy or resign ourselves to the same low incomes and fragile economies of the past. We are 47th in workforce education, 42nd in high-tech jobs, 33rd in the number of the fastest growing companies, 45th in the number of patents, 39th in industry investment in research and development, and 47th in the number of scientists and engineers. Kentucky needs more scientists, more engineers, more mathematicians, more biologists, and more pharmacists.

But we also need more artists, more musicians, more health care workers, more writers, and more teachers. We need more college-educated citizens enriching communities, recruiting businesses, and creating ones of their own. We need more people trained and dedicated to solving the social, economic, and health care challenges we face. We need more creators, innovators, experimenters, and dreamers.

A group of students walking
A group of students walking

If we choose not to grow our enrollment, we abdicate our leadership role in making life better for more Kentuckians and making the future better for all of Kentucky. And we are complicit in allowing too many of our citizens to work in a series of stagnant jobs, earn below-average wages and few benefits, and face limited futures. Our poor citizens will remain poor, the divide between the haves and have nots will expand, impoverished regions will remain impoverished, businesses will struggle or close, and our state will continue to lag far behind our competitors on nearly every measure of the quality of our lives.

And the sad truth will be that the University of Kentucky will be an instrument of the status quo rather than a catalyst for change.

There is no virtue in cynicism and there can be no progress from timidity. The time has come for Kentucky to risk and reach, unencumbered by the hollow safety of the predictable, the accepted, and the secure. We take direct aim at Top 20 status because it forces us to do what is hard so that we might achieve something better.

Our Responsibility to Kentucky - More Intellectual Capital

Enrollment growth also will provide a more stable financial environment over the long-term. It will allow us to sustain a larger faculty. Kentucky needs its flagship university to be home to a world-class collection of faculty that is talented enough, focused enough, and large enough to take on the problems that plague too many Kentuckians for too much of their lives. This is the message we must carry to Frankfort and across Kentucky. We need a larger faculty not just to teach our students but to be the engine for change and improvement in the health and well-being of Kentucky. Richard Florida put it best in a recent article from the “Atlantic Monthly:”

Concentrations of creative and talented people are particularly important to innovation, according to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Lucas. Ideas flow more freely, are honed more sharply, and can be put into practice more quickly when large numbers of innovators, implementers, and financial backers are in constant contact with one another, both in and out of the certainly appears that innovation, economic growth, and prosperity occur in those places that attract a critical mass of top creative talent.

William T. Young Library interior
William T. Young Library interior

That is what the Top 20 mandate is all about - creating a synergy of talent, creativity, and innovation. We see the need for more faculty in the hard work it will take to solve Kentucky's problems. Every additional faculty member we hire is another member of a collection of talented people dedicated to fighting disease, improving products and services, and creating businesses and jobs. Every additional dollar in external funding our faculty earns is another dollar invested in research and service and another dollar infused into our economy. Every additional action our faculty take to assist businesses, provide health care, support elementary and secondary education, enlighten our society, enrich our culture, and reach out to the communities across Kentucky makes a difference across Kentucky. UK is uniquely positioned to have an impact on the life of every Kentuckian and the future of every Kentucky community.

Our capacity to improve Kentucky rests on the shoulders of our faculty. A larger faculty can provide more instruction, research, and service. A larger faculty will generate more inventions and more patents. A larger faculty will increase our ability to preserve our culture and appreciate our history. We can make an even greater difference in Kentucky by being a larger physical and intellectual presence for Kentucky.

The Next 15 Years

New residence halls
New residence halls

We know Top 20 universities go hand-in-hand with more educated and healthier populations. Average household incomes are higher in states with Top 20 universities. Unemployment rates are lower and fewer public dollars are spent on health care. These states also have healthier children and fewer people living in poverty. We know that people who go to college live healthier lives, are less susceptible to poverty, and less encumbered by disease. We know that college educated people are more likely to vote and give their time and their energy to improve the communities around them. We know they are more likely to be involved in local schools and read to their children at night.

We take direct aim at Top 20 status because it is a noble and ambitious cause. But our only sure reward is the progress we will make through aggressive plans and hard work over the next 15 years. We can and we will become a stronger university by 2020. And we will make Kentucky a much better place for our children.


Updated June 29, 2011 by Chuck Ham